How do you recruit war victims?
There are many victims in wars. Its easy to vent about how innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan have become victims of war. But what about the victims behind the guns, those who, for whatever, are compelled into joining an army they otherwise wouldn’t and who often become the frontline casualties of even the most high-tech wars?
In America, the approach to army recruitment has always revolved around finding ways of coercing the poorest into participating. With college the only way out of the ghetto for many, and education so costly, a disproportionate number of recruits into lower ranks are black. “Economic Conscription” is rife over there, and could become more commonplace in Britain as the government ups course fees whilst the Army promises opportunities to study in return for years of service. It differs little from the conscription in return for citizenship of years gone by.
As the war in Afghanistan drags on, and more and more servicemen and women refuse to re-enlist when their time is up, the US army has turned to ever more desperate methods of recruitment, none less than the “Army Experience Centre” opened in a mall in a poor neighbourhood in Philadelphia. You can read the ever-sarcastic SchNews tale of the demise of the project, but it does raise an interesting question: in a world where people are ever more aware of what war is really like, how do you recruit the victims of violent conflict?
Armed Forces Recruitment centres in the UK are becoming more flashy, but on campuses the military are being sent packing time and again, leaving the Army more likely to focus attention on poorer areas where, as with America, a job in the army is a seemingly simple route out of hopelessness. But it is a route that often leads to a sharp awakening. The whole thing is sold with a sugary icing of “adventure” and “adrenaline”; including TV adverts focused on the PR-favourable aid mission that makes up perhaps 10% of the UK Army’s work worldwide.
For some, the Army is a free choice, something they look forwards to. But when the supplies of willing recruits dries up, as it has begun to do so lately, a government will be pushed into either forced conscription or more subtle coercion, either through cosy PR or rigging the economics. Either way, its nearly always the poorest who lose out, consigned to lower ranks for lack of the education to rise up into skilled positions.
As modern media enables us to see the futility of inter-state conflict, and to understand the humanity of those who’s lives it will destroy, we really mustn’t forget that some of those people are less-than-willing recruits to ‘our’ armed forces, those with few other options but to become the victims of roadside bombs in a war they cannot afford to oppose.