A report commissioned by Veterans For Peace UK draws on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies from the last half-century to explore the effects of army employment on soldiers, particularly their initial training.
It finds that young people with experiences of childhood adversity, who exhibit violent behaviour at a young age, or have mental health problems, are not for the most part “rescued” by a military career. They are likely to leave early and face unemployment due to a lack of transferable qualifications after leaving education to enlist.
Their early difficulties leave them more susceptible to mental health problems triggered by training and in service. They don’t need a cadet force to mould them into controlled, obedient and patriotic young citizens but proper and sustained mental health support in a supportive learning environment.
However, another interim report on the social impact of cadet forces, recently published by the University of Northampton, said that cadet units can improve attendance and educational achievement, supporting children in ways that schools cannot. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon praised the report while announcing 31 new cadet units in state schools. It extols the benefits offered by cadets for socio-economically disadvantaged and emotionally troubled young people — in fact military service can be highly damaging to such youngsters.
The University of Northampton report, and Fallon’s dream of cadet units blossoming up and down the country, herald the cadet forces as the solution to struggling children, mixing child development aims with defence aims such as savings, recruitment and PR for the armed forces.
The cadet expansion programme is funded by part of nearly £90 million that has gone into military programmes in education since 2012
By contrast, non-military services and facilities for young people have been decimated in recent years, and education is facing a funding crisis. Teaching and support staff posts are being cut, along with Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision and spending on books and equipment. Funding for education of 16-19 year olds has been devastated and should be restored.
While the cadet forces offer benefits to many young people, so would any well-funded youth programme with excellent resources
Outside the classroom, the picture is equally bleak. Youth clubs have been so badly hit that they are closing up and down the country and may become once more reliant on Dickensian philanthro-capitalism. Children’s mental health services have also faced cuts, with funding falling by nearly £50m between 2010 and 2015.
Two years ago Tim Bevan, producer of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and co-founder of Working Title Films, commented on Nicky Morgan harking back to the days of national service, by investing millions in funding for military boot camp type projects to instill discipline and build “character, resilience and grit” in young people.
The funding was going to organisations such as Commando Joe’s, Challenger Troop and Skillforce. Tim thinks that the lure of additional funding into cash strapped schools masks the intention to raise a public willing to pay for the military, make recruitment easier in to armed forces and stifle opposition to unpopular wars and asks:
“What will be the effect of this approach on children, already identified as disadvantaged? What will they learn? To follow rules without question, to do as they are told and not think for themselves, to respond to aggression and to conform through fear. How will this develop the creative, problem solving, free-thinking, decision makers of the future?” And ends:
“We do not need a public service focussed on war to turn around the lives of disadvantaged young people. Those facing hardship need meaningful opportunities to secure employment, not to develop resilience to the pain and frustration of inequality”.