Judge and Jury: Army should be saluted for its admission of race mistakes - The British Army’s latest campaign to target recruitment of ethnic minorities can be a success if it is not seen as too little, too late, says Adrian Wheeler, managing dir

The Army’s new recruitment advertising features non-white faces in a parody of Lord Kitchener’s famous original poster. The launch of the ads is accompanied by a set of initiatives designed to eradicate racism from the ranks - or at least to improve on the one per cent figure which the Army currently recruits from Britain’s ethnic minorities.

The Army’s new recruitment advertising features non-white faces in

a parody of Lord Kitchener’s famous original poster. The launch of the

ads is accompanied by a set of initiatives designed to eradicate racism

from the ranks - or at least to improve on the one per cent figure which

the Army currently recruits from Britain’s ethnic minorities.



The ads are clearly intended to shock, and by doing so they underline

the Chief of the General Staff’s intention to change Army attitudes once

and for all. Media response has been mixed: applause for the initiative,

scepticism as to its chances of success.



Racism in the Army has always baffled me. I grew up thinking that the

mixed origin of the British Army was one of its glories. Perhaps a

peacetime Army, which is steadily shrinking, allows comradeship to

dwindle, or narrow its focus.



It would be encouraging to think that the Army’s latest initiatives are

the result of spontaneous soul-searching on the part of the General

Staff.



Instead, they seem to be a response to the accusations earlier this year

of the Commission for Racial Equality, which (rather oddly) called the

Army ’colour-blind’. That, and a spate of stories of ill-treatment and

harassment of ethnic-origin soldiers by their white

comrades-in-arms.



The fact that the Army is responding seriously to public opinion is no

reason to belittle its initiatives. There will be a multi-race

recruitment unit, advice on dealing with racial bullying and a helpline.

Most convincing to me, however, is the strength of the words used to

describe the General Staff’s intentions: ’We need to own up to the fact

that we have got it wrong in the past’; and: ’We are drawing a line in

the sand’.



From a public relations point of view, it would be wrong to criticise

the Army’s reaction to a deplorable situation. They clearly mean what

they say. If only they had seen the light sooner.



British servicemen were disgusted by the US Army’s policy of segregation

in the 1940s. Fifty years later the Americans had Colin Powell, black

chairman of the joint chief of staff (until his retirement in 1994) and

we have racial bullying. The US Army’s example since the war shows that

anti-racism programmes do work. Let’s hope that the famous British sense

of fair play meets the General Staff’s initiatives half-way.



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