OPINION: Vilification of the British Army is a disgrace

It is a sign of uncertain times that, while so many British troops are engaged on front lines, there is no institution whose image is under more attack than the British Army.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Consider for a moment the crossfire. Army chiefs are now regularly attacked by coroners' rulings that British soldiers serving in Afghanistan or Iraq have been 'unlawfully killed' because of equipment failures.

Bereaved families of soldiers killed on the front lines are encouraged to sue their military masters under Human Rights laws.

A humiliatingly unsuccessful High Court bid by defence secretary Des Brown to gag coroners' use of critical language has inevitably added to the Army's image problems. Another recent salvo at the Army's reputation came from Britain's biggest teachers' union, which voted to curtail recruitment visits by the military schools if teachers felt such visits were being used for 'propaganda purposes'.

Since one man's patriotic meat is inevitably another man's propaganda poison, it is hard to imagine the damage potentially to be inflicted by this National Union of Teachers' resolution on the image of the Army among students.

Meanwhile, it is difficult to view the recent British court award of £2m compensation to a teenager inadvertently shot and wounded by the Army in Iraq as anything other than a comms challenge for those who would burnish the image of the Army.

Particularly when the maximum compensation awarded to horrifically wounded British soldiers is approximately one-tenth of that sum.

Tabloid newspapers have traditionally competed aggressively for pole position in the support of 'our boys'. They augment their retelling of heroic tales in the field of battle with hard-hitting campaigns aimed at securing better pay and conditions for 'our heroes'.

Thus soldiers are built up to the stuff of legend while the reputation of the institution that nourishes them is comprehensively trashed. How incalculable is the damage to the image of the army when The Sun reveals the sink-estate conditions in which troops are expected to live when they return home?

There is, of course, a political ingredient that defines much of the tone of the debate that is so damaging the Army. The past decade has seen record numbers of troops committed to often unpopular wars. Yet defence spending has failed to keep pace. Simultaneously, casualties of war have become compensation cases.

Caught between the compensation-hungry lawyers and the perception of under-investment, the image of the Army is sustaining a battering that discredits the nation.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly an executive at The Sun and Daily Mail.

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