This is an article written by Wayen Sharrocks, which appears on Veterans for Peace website.

Wayne Sharrocks served in the British Army and is a member of Veterans For Peace UK. http://www.waynesharrocks.com/

I joined the Army at 17 years old and acquired 7 year’s experience. During those 7 years I served in The Rifles and The Special Forces Support Group (SFSG) where I was deployed in front line operations in Afghanistan (twice) where I was shot at, rocketed, blown up and witnessed colleagues step on IED’s right next to me. I have also been injured and flown back from theatre.  I think from these experiences I have gained a well rounded experience of modern warfare and military life in general. I do not say this as some kind of boast or to portray myself as some kind of expert, just to give some context.

Since I left the military I’ve struggled to adapt to civilian life and have suffered with mental health issues such as depression, which I eventually got help for after years of not talking about it to anyone. I also later found out that many of my peer group who had left the army were suffering from similar issues and had also never spoken about it. This culture of mental illness was the main driving force behind my research into why this occurs in the military.

During my Army service I did not believe in PTSD or depression and thought that struggling with mental health was a sign of weakness. I also now understand that this way of thinking was a mindset that the military had conditioned into me through training. It was realising how this was done that helped me in part revers the conditioning and begin to live a civilian life.

It was not combat trauma that lead to any of my mental health issues or returning to a civilian life. It was the training itself.

It is this discovery that made me realise that it is not just battlefield trauma that causes mental health issues but the conditioning associated with training have a massive part to play

And this leads me tho believe that we as a nation should have an obligation to not allow 16/17 year olds to be allowed to enter the military at that age.

WHAT IS MILITARY TRAINING?

The army would say that the aim of basic training is to break a civilian down and build them back up as a soldier. During this process they instil the ‘soldier’ with the values and standards of the British Army, Selfless commitment, Integrity, Respect for others, Loyalty, Courage, and Discipline.

Perhaps the deeper meaning of military training is designed to re-programme the brains natural way of thinking. Then the brain can be conditioned with militaristic attributes and the ability to release (controlled) aggression when ordered and ultimately to remove your natural aversion to kill.

And here is how:

1) FOLLOW ORDERS WITHOUT QUESTION.

In the first phase of training you’re taught drill. We have all seen the parades on TV with vast bodies of men all moving in unison then standing to attention on command; this is a great way to show the levels of discipline within the Army. What this is really showing is the control the command has over its men. How they will do the most basic of tasks such as stand still for as long as they’re told without questioning.

During training if you deviate from an order this will be met with a punishment. These punishments come in many forms but are often group based and are physical in nature. This both shows you are now part of a whole and your mistake costs the group. It is also done to humiliate the person who caused the punishment and breed fear into others to not do the same.

You are actively taught to ignore your own thoughts, feelings, emotions and reactions and to only do what is ordered of you. This could range from standing to attention, jumping out of a plane or more complex orders such as walk through a mine field but principally the same rules apply .

You also adopt the group’s ideals and any deviation from these ideals is met with the same punishments which are also delivered by the group and can come in the form of bullying, harassment or ostracisation. Any member of the group who’s identified as weak link and as someone who can’t ‘hack it’ will be ‘weeded out’ from the group and possibly from the service.

Your ability to follow orders without question is constantly tested throughout training.

2) BREEDING LOYALTY TO UNIT. 

The military has great regimental and unit pride. Loyalty can be a great thing in many ways and a great value to have. This works in combat situations where you have to rely on your colleagues in combat but what this also dose is create tribalism.

One of the first things done in training is the confiscation of anything that could make you different from the next recruit. Your individuality is removed from you through processes such as having your head shaved, replacement of clothes for uniform etc. You’re also taught to spend hours preparing your locker for inspection and you’re called by your family name, rank and number only. Again any deviation from any of these things is met with a punishment.

This is also where you begin calling the rest of the population ‘civilians’, exceptionalism sets in along with the growing disconnect from everyone else occurs. Clothes that aren’t issued by the army become “civvies”. You’re marched everywhere as a unit and spend 24 hours a day with the rest of the unit for 6 weeks until you all think and feel and act the same.

In the military you are actively encouraged to dislike other regiments. You are made to feel special because you are in “the best regiment” and when you feel special you will go the extra mile. The parachute regiment call other regiments “crap hats” the marines call others “pongo’s” and the infantry call non-combat units REMFS (rear echelon mother fuckers).

You are also encouraged not to speak out against the “cap badge”, regiment or unit. These are now your “brothers” and you do not speak badly of family.

Most worryingly you are actively encouraged to look down on civilians. The very people you joined to protect are now known as “lizards” “pond life” (just a couple of names I can remember) that know nothing of the military and any of the values you now hold yourself to. Being a civilian now would now mean failure.

During training you will do almost anything to get into your chosen regiment. You will put up with humiliation, sleep deprivation, brutal physical punishments to name a few. This is also helped by the fact that you are all volunteers, more on this later.

3) REMOVAL OF AVERSION TO KILL.

The main thing that separates a civilian from a soldier is a soldier is trained to kill. This has been glamorised over many years of Hollywood film production and the general population is far removed from what it takes to carry out such an action. In reality human beings are born with an aversion to kill one another.

Studies show that up until the Vietnam War only 10% of infantry soldiers were firing their weapons with the intent to kill. The majority of deaths were mainly carried out from distance, where the soldier could not see the person he was killing. This is an issue for the military and once noticing these findings experts were put in place to re-think military training.

Lots of things have since been put in place to ensure the modern soldier kills when ordered. In the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts up to 90% of infantry soldiers were firing to kill and this is no accident.

Some examples (these are only a few brief examples):

Increasing the distance of the kill

We can see through history that the distances between enemies on the battlefield have increased. The Vikings fought hand to hand with swords. We now have drone warfare that can be controlled from another country.

Manipulation of language

People become “targets” that we shoot in the “centre of mass” which translates to “shoot the man in the chest”. Races of people are de-humanised.

Peer Pressure & Leadership

“Someone who has not studied the matter would underestimate the influence of leadership enabling killing on the battlefield, but those who have been there know better. A 1973 study by Kaplin and Kranss investigated the factors that make a soldier fire. They found that the individuals with no combat experience assumed that “being fired upon” would be the critical factor in making them fire. However, veterans listed “being told to fire” as the most critical factor.

Visual Stimulus

Shooting targets were changed from bullseye fun shoot style targets to a figure of a man. Targets where designed to fall when hit just as a human would. During modern training the “enemy platoon” often dressed in dish dash and would wear turbans.

Repetition

Contact drills are repeated again and again. This is for two reasons, firstly, for the safety of the patrol but also so when faced with a real combat scenario your instincts are overridden by the drills previously taught.

Concentration on Smaller Tasks

Every action on the battlefield including firing your rifle can be broken down into smaller sub parts. The marksmanship principle is a good example of this. There are 4 checks to carry out whilst thinking about aiming and firing your rifle. These checks are designed to increase your chances of hitting the target but also to distract your mind from the aspect of killing.

By the end of training all an Infantry soldier wants to do is go to war and kill the enemy, It bears no consequence of war or the reasons behind the war, all a soldier wants to do is his job.

4) MANIPULATION OF THE FIGHT AND FLIGHT INSTINCT.

Every animal has a natural in-built survival mechanism in the brain that exists for self-preservation. When confronted with mortal danger you either run or fight. The most important part of military training is to get a soldier to fight on every occasion.

It’s difficult to find a comparable civilian example of running towards an enemy position while taking fire. It may be like stepping into the road and all of a sudden seeing a car coming towards you. Your body’s natural response would be to jump out the way to safety. The Army would want you to run at the car and towards mortal danger.

This training is designed to re-program the brains natural way of working so a person is willing to transit towards danger and fight on a moment’s notice when ordered to do so. All of the training techniques stacked on top of each other all add up to this re-wiring of the brains natural response mechanism.

THE BRITISH ARMY

I have nothing against any soldier or anyone wanting to join the army. The army is very good at what it does and what it does is train soldiers. As a byproduct it also produces psychological problems in later life.

With the recent findings in mental health the psychological effects of military training should not be ignored. Most people join the army for a number of different reasons, primarily socio-economic or ideological. I also don’t think anyone in the army is doing anything that they see as wrong. I also don’t think the staff at the training establishments realise that this is what they are doing.

A soldier (irrespective of rank) will do what he/she is told without question. So if he/she is told to train recruits under certain guidelines they will. There is also an aspect of compartmentalisation going on.

Compartmentalisation is the process of subdividing tasks to a number of different people within a chain. If you look at any large scale factory that is successful in churning out a lot of products (in the army case soldiers) at a good quality you will find that compartmentalisation lies at the key to the success. It is simply a way of turning a massive task into much smaller parts and giving little responsibilities to individual people. In this scenario you are often unaware of the bigger picture because you are so focused on your small part within it. The training staff may be unaware of the psychological damage being caused but make no mistake the MOD is not and is fully aware of what it is doing.

A good example of this in history of how far this concept of compartmentalisation can go is the famous Nuremberg defence. Adolf Eichmann was one of the most prominent Nazis accused of war crimes in charge of the murder of millions of Jews. In his defence he stated “I would stress that I am guilty of having been obedient, I did not persecute Jews with avidity and passion. That is what the government did”.  He claimed only to have done his job but not to have known the bigger picture. A soldier will follow orders without question.

IS THIS TO DAMAGING A 16 YEAR OLD?

Going by the research and coupled with my own experience of speaking to many veterans who have struggled with mental health and the transition back into civilian life, I believe so. It is clear to me that military training is hugely psychologically damaging. I do not only think it is psychologically damaging to children I think it is as a whole physiologically damaging.

I feel as a veteran that has been through these experiences I have an obligation to talk about the issue. We as veterans have a unique understanding of both sides of the coin. Conducting the research on training has led me to understand a lot of the reasons that I struggled on returning to a civilian life and eventually led to my recovery.

I have gathered many testimonies and accounts and from that information I can conclude that I think it’s inappropriate to allow a 16 year old to be subjected to this kind of training. The government has a duty of care to protect 16 year olds from alcohol consumption and watching graphic content in films and video games. The very government that has put this rule in place will not even allow the 16 year old to vote as they don’t deep them mature enough to make a decision of that importance. So how can we then allow a 16 year old to make the decision to volunteer to be put through mental conditioning, learn to kill and sign years of there life over in an oath to the queen?

According to studies (linked below) you are twice as likely to be killed if you join at 16 then later in life. This is due to the lack of qualifications to gain a trade and the larger likelihood of going into a front line roll.

The army foundation college advertises as offers great educational facilities. In reality The armed forces are exempt from the requirements of the Education and Skills Act 2008, meaning 16/17 year old recruits receive significantly lower standards and fewer hours of education than the legal minimum.

According to a new study by MedAct, at 16 you are more likely (on average) to make uninformed and dangerous decisions affecting your future. You are more likely to believe the hype along with the glamorised perception of the military and modern warfare that is portrayed by military advertising.

I joined the Army based on watching a documentary on the Iraq war. This documentary was a highly glamorised one sided view of the conflict and I made a quick decision wanting to seek adventure and approval. Reports show that at a young age you are more likely to make risky decisions with a greater risk for adventure. An attribute the military advertising uses very well to draw the youth into recruitment.

There is no mention of any possible long term psychological issues which have become a national issue due to the recent Iraq and Afghan conflicts and levels of PTSD are on the rise.

Knowing what I know now I would not sent a child of 16 into this environment. Every person is different and I am sure there are many that are glad they joined at 16 and have had good experiences and gained a lot from the Army. That aside I think as a whole we have an obligation to look after children if we know that there will be psychological issues as a result of military enlistment.

Photograph from http://vfpuk.org/2016/military-training-obey-hate-kill/