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
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
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
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.