When my brother was an infantry officer in the early 1990s the soldiers under his command were hard men. Most hailed from the north-east of England; in an earlier era they might have mined coal for a living. They smoked and drank and swore, and they were superb soldiers, as they proved in South Armagh and in Bosnia. It’s safe to assume these men would have struggled as infantrymen in today’s British army.
Even the word ‘infantrymen’ would cause problems today. Last year, the Ministry of Defence recruited for a director of diversity and inclusion (salary £110,000 per annum, compared to the £20,000 an infantryman is paid). Meanwhile, in November, it was disclosed that the RAF had dropped ‘airmen’ and ‘airwomen’ in favour of ‘aviator’. This followed the decision by the RAF in 2020 to promote gender-neutral pronouns.
‘The RAF actively promotes diversity and inclusion throughout its ranks in a number of ways,’ explained a spokesperson. ‘The open and transparent sharing of chosen pronouns is one way we can be an inclusive employer.’
With nonsense like this now rife in the British armed forces, is it any surprise that several soldiers have gone AWOL and headed east? One of the those reportedly now in Ukraine told comrades ‘he wanted to do something real.’ As ill-advised as it is to travel to Ukraine to fight the Russians one can sympathise with those young men who have deserted. Recruitment in the British army has always risen in times of conflict, be it Bosnia, Iraq or Afghanistan. Peacetime soldiering can be stultifying.
Ineptitude and not ethnicity is the impediment to a fulfilling military career
The difference between the British army today and even that of fifteen years ago is one of ideology. It is not an exaggeration to say that among some of the top brass patriotism is increasingly being usurped by progressivism. In December, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the chief of the defence staff, gave a speech that in light of events in Ukraine is almost too excruciating to bear. Bemoaning the lack of diversity in the armed forces, Radakin told his audience:
‘This is not about wokefulness. It is about woefulness. The woefulness of too few women. The woefulness of not reflecting the ethnic, religious and cognitive diversity of our nation. And the woefulness of not following our own values.’
Yet the British military – the army in particular – has always been a diverse employer, ready to accept anyone who is up to the job. Men such as Johnson Beharry, born in Grenada, who was awarded a Victoria Cross in 2005 for his gallantry in Iraq. Another man held in awe by his former comrades, was Talaiasi Labalaba of the SAS, killed at the battle of Mirbat in Oman in 1972. A statue to the Fijian was unveiled at the SAS HQ in Hereford in 2009.
Fijians continue to serve with distinction in the British army (one, Semesa Rokoduguni, has played four times for the England rugby team) as do many other nationalities. Ineptitude and not ethnicity is the impediment to a fulfilling military career.
But in Sir Tony’s speech the inference was that the British armed forces might in the future jeopardise combat effectiveness for the sake of meeting diversity targets. That was also the implication of the army’s £1.6m advertising campaign back in 2018, which addressed questions such as ‘Can I be gay in the army?’ and ‘What if I get emotional in the army?’. The campaign was revealed soon after the team of General Sir Nick Carter, Radakin’s predecessor as chief of the defence staff, wrote a report suggesting the previous advertising campaign, ‘Be the Best’ was now ‘dated, elitist and non-inclusive’
Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British operations in Afghanistan, excoriated the campaign, stating that the main attraction for young men in joining the army was the prospect of fighting. ‘The main group of people who are interested in joining aren’t worried so much about whether they are going to be listened to,’ he said. ‘They are going to be attracted by images of combat.’
This explains why some British soldiers are deserting and heading to Ukraine: they want to see some action. As I wrote on Coffee House on Wednesday they are misguided in doing so, but their courage and resolve should be respected.
Last month, soldiers were forced by their superiors to undergo a training day in order to help ‘remove barriers, maximise diversity and enhance operational capability through true inclusion’. One hopes it was a worthwhile exercise, though perhaps a more useful one would have been a live fire exercise on Salisbury Plain.
The worrying impression conveyed by several senior military figures is that they are travelling in the same calamitous direction as their counterparts in the police, pushing a progressive ideology that saps the morale and undermines the effectiveness of the fine young men and women in their ranks. To paraphrase that famous description of soldiers in the first world war as lions led by donkeys, today’s troops are lions led by dogma.