A new report by military think-tank the National Armed Forces Institute (NAFI) has criticised ministers for creating a ‘culture of courage’ amongst service personnel. General Sir Robyn Satchel-Shaft, a former commander of UK forces in Iraq said that combat troops were under increasing pressure to undertake heroic acts that risked upsetting the balance between the genuinely courageous and the naturally cowardly.
‘It’s all very well writing about a serviceman or woman who has attacked an enemy machine gun post armed with nothing but a bayonet,’ he writes on the Institute’s website, ‘but frankly that sort of gallant behaviour can simply reinforce feelings of negativity amongst those troops who’d prefer to run, hide or surrender.’
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said that while heroism was still considered more helpful amongst armed services personnel than abject fear there was an acknowledged need for greater balance in favour of those who were worried they might be about to die a horrible and pointless death.
Commenting on the article, Clifford de Burke, a military historian, said that the treatment of nervous and twitchy British troops had not improved. He said, ‘You may have a soldier character that spends the first half of a movie crying and sweating and is clearly not very brave, but that’s not the same as saying he’s an accepted and valued member of the platoon. Inevitably, by the end of the movie, the same cowardly trooper will have discovered a previously untapped well of inner courage and gone on to sacrifice their life in a pivotal act of bravery.’
General Satchel-Shaft argues that identifying non-bravery is becoming increasingly complex, ‘Cowardice, trauma or a reasonable desire not to be murdered are all determining factors, but then so is the ability to fight and win without being killed in the process. What I’m worried about is that we’re creating a culture where armed forces personnel who make it back in one piece are viewed as somehow less capable than those who haven’t.’
The Defence Secretary, writing in today’s Times, argued, ‘What we need is a more modern, diverse military, which means an equal balance between soldiers who are eager to embrace conflict; those who do it through a sense of duty and equally cowardly custards, chickens and scaredy-cats who run squealing when someone pops a balloon. The important thing is that we aren’t seen to judge one type of behaviour as preferable to another.’
23rd November 2009