Perceptions and Risk

Can anyone tell me why almost every armed forces related television drama portrays serving or former members as a PTSD victim or violent drunk, unable to cope with the mental stresses of everyday life?

It seems lazy writers can acceptably fall into stereotypical portrayal of soldiers (especially), sailors or airmen (less so) far too easily.

I have written about the wider effects of the victim culture, the ‘best amputee in a green suit’ mawkishness of the Millies and general sentimentality displayed by news media.

A number of senior officers have picked this up and written about the publics casualty aversion, inability to accept any kind of risk and the resultant paralysis in political decision making.

Perceptions matter, they matter because they influence decision making.

Comparisons between the manner in which the French Government and armed forces reacted to the situation in Mali and what might have happened if the British Government were in a similar position are likely to be painful. They acted swiftly, decisively and with, it must be said, some dash and élan.

Key was the huge operational and political freedom given to the French ministry of defence.

Would the British Government and its micro managed media focus groups have had the balls to allow parachute assaults and headlong dashes across huge distances of the African countryside, or would it have insisted on an all inclusive approach where steady negotiation, massive force protection and the integration of Malian basket weaving collectives into the comprehensive decision matrix be precursors to ‘proportionate’ action?

You might think I am conflating the two issues but perceptions of the armed forces as victims and an inability to say anything about them in public life without the prefix ‘brave’ and in a sympathetic tone means that decision making has an enormous weight dragging it down.

Syria might be seen as risk aversion in action, a loss of the will to intervene but I think this was a sensible view of British interest.

Members of the armed forces are professionals, they accept risk.

That fact is not to be abused, as it has all too often in the past, but it should not be ignored either.

The image below shows a suicide prevention somewhere, not sure where.

Simple, direct, effective

Simple, direct action, swiftly carried out with confidence and acceptance of risk settled the issue decisively.

The British Government has the tools, but does it have the minerals?

 

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Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
April 2, 2014 8:57 am

Pretty

derekbob
derekbob
April 2, 2014 9:31 am

There is a confusion between casualty aversion, which is a good thing, and feebleness- which is much worse and what Britain increasingly suffers from. From the brave nation that stood alone against Napoleon, alone against Hitler and drew the sword against Imperial Germany and Argentina’s military junta not to mention the 40 years of standing as part of Europe’s aegis against communist aggression Britain has become a hollowed out version of itself dominated by a kleptocratic elite that has so brainwashed the populace that a majority of them would rather live on their knees than die on their feet. The country now appears to be caught in a self reinforcing downward spiral of cowardice and military weakness that is progressively rendering it less and less relevant.

Its a shame really.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
April 2, 2014 9:48 am

Lions led by Donkeys.

New MP’s should undertake secondment stints in HM forces.

Engineer Tom
April 2, 2014 10:15 am

Does anyone else think that the way in which the media seems to say that any death in military service is a waste and unexceptable, effects the recruiting for the military. To me I see this perception that our military should sit around and do nothing to avoid casulties and that it is portrayed as badly led by some in the media, due to initial operational plans failing, as pushing us further and further from the potential recruits who would best serve us.

Frenchie
Frenchie
April 2, 2014 11:26 am

I think you’re too idealistic view of the situation of the French army, our ground equipment is very old, senior officers say that we will be soon be out capability. There will have less cuts in military personnel than you, it is not men that we lack, but the material.
Our army is capable of restoring the situation in Mali, but in the Central African Republic, we can do nothing without you.

accattd
accattd
April 2, 2014 11:38 am

I have been wondering about the French defence priorities.

The logistics backup is quite thin. Maybe the long tradition of maintaining bases in Africa has been taken as a substitute. It is interesting that if you put together the French presence and where US special forces have a presence, then you get a continuos belt across Africa.

Martin
Editor
April 2, 2014 11:50 am

I think the issue is our current Priminister. He is simply not that man for the job and its one of the reasons for the UK diminished standing of late. he is unable and unwilling to take any hard decisions, has little if any real principals and lacks understanding of many situations beyond the PR value of them.

The issue in Syria was that there was no UK or Western interest as there was in Libya.

There was zero benefit to our intervention both for us and probably for the people of Syria as well.

But I agree with you comments that the UK now is unlikely to allow such operations as the French did in Mali. However I seen this in part due to increasing acceptance of US doctrine in our top brass. The US rarely has need to travel so light and they have always been obsessed with force protection. That being said it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The French did get lucky in Mali I think and things could have gone wrong.

If I was a UK. General that had lost several dozen men under my command in snatch land rovers I might also be reluctant to go fast and light if I could avoid it.

Martin
Editor
April 2, 2014 11:57 am
Reply to  derekbob

Yes let’s go and start a war and kill some people so we can feel better about ourselves.

all the examples you site are situations were we had no choice but to fight. It should be noted that in all of those situations the UK did what it could not to go to war in the first place. we have rarely been a country prepared to go to war lightly ( unless we were fighting the French) and with out good cause and most importantly of all self interest.

On the occasions were we did 1776, 1854, 1914 and 2003 we regretted it and lid a price.

Martin
Editor
April 2, 2014 12:03 pm
Reply to  Frenchie

I would not criticise the French forces in their African operations but you make a good point. Its easy to confuse tactics with necessity. The French did what they did in Mali because they could not do it another way. Its just so happened to work out well. Much the same as us in the Falklands. Our tactics worked well but it was done because we could not do it the way the USA would have with three big fat CBG’s and an amphibious armoured division.

still hat off to the French they may have sat in the sidelines in the Middle East but they are the only ones stepping up to the plate in Africa. Hopefully of we get a decent PM ( not likely) we might be able to lend more than sensors and cargo planes.

derekbob
derekbob
April 2, 2014 12:09 pm
Reply to  Martin

Your aversion to facts is even more epic than I could ever have imagined. The British have a long and proud history of going to war for remarkably spurious reasons, the Opium War being a high point, unless you think peddling narcotics is a good reason for a war?

Frenchie
Frenchie
April 2, 2014 12:45 pm
Reply to  Martin

In 2020, you will have two aircraft carriers with F35B, FRES SV and UV, many Foxhound to replace Land Rovers, T45, T26, etc. … it’s great. For now we can’t do much.

Kent Horton
April 2, 2014 1:12 pm

Welcome to my world. Imagine the reaction today of our Congress, White House, “news” media, and the members of the public to the 2,499 US deaths on D-Day, June 6, 1944. If that happened today, no matter how many members of the military were involved in the action, there would be demands to withdraw all surviving forces from the combat area, to investigate “what went wrong,” and to sack those commanders responsible.
This is all the direct result of the “pussification” of the United States.

S O
S O
April 2, 2014 1:33 pm
Reply to  Martin

Actually, the U.S. would or could hardly send an “amphibious armoured division” on short notice to Mali.
They could have sent an advance team or paras and logisticians and then fly in a vanilla Stryker brigade with modified TO&E. Alternatively, one or two USMC MEU without the M1s. The 82nd would be largely unsuitable.

That’s not very different from what the French and UK have on offer.

S O
S O
April 2, 2014 1:38 pm
Reply to  derekbob

The British Empire was never a nation, so “the brave nation that stood alone against Napoleon, alone against Hitler” is hardly accurate.

You folks also make the typical mistake of mistaking lack of interest as a lack of balls. Americans do this all the time, complaining about how little Europeans contributed to the Kosovo and Libya air wars when in reality we only committed a tiny fraction of our forces, preferring to do these things together.

Entire countries broke in 1917/19 due to the stresses of war, so the importance of morale and propaganda was well understood afterwards (for a generation). Nowadays people tend to neglect this and mistake the output of an uninterested country for its potential output.

S O
S O
April 2, 2014 1:39 pm
Reply to  derekbob

He appears to look at intra-Western conflicts only. There were 50 colonial wars in the Victorian era alone, so he’s obviously not writing about those small wars.

Martin
Editor
April 2, 2014 2:34 pm
Reply to  S O

Sorry SO my ref was to the USA retaking the FI not Mali. what II meant was that our tactics were successful but they were employed because it was all we could do rather than what we would have liked to do and in someway that is what the French have done in Mali

Observer
Observer
April 2, 2014 3:03 pm
Reply to  derekbob

But wasn’t that what you wanted? To show “military strength” and non-“cowardice”. You propose things, but somehow fail to realise the implications of your suggestions.

Observer
Observer
April 2, 2014 3:11 pm
Reply to  Kent Horton

Meow?

I think it was a habit that was cultivated. You know how confrontational politics are, and sometimes the opposition takes any weapon that it can grab to club the establishment with. Military deaths just happen to be a convenient club. Over time, this became an ingrained habit. If there was no media around, you think the politicians will care if people they don’t know and will never meet die in job lots? It reminds me of the fights in the Taiwanese parliament. Some Taiwanese jokingly mentioned to me once that the fights only happen when there are cameras about. No cameras, the politicians end up looking more bored than pro-active.

accattd
accattd
April 2, 2014 3:21 pm
Reply to  Martin

RE
“The issue in Syria was that there was no UK or Western interest as there was in Libya.”
– is that an issue? It is the reverse?
– BC – angle omitted, of course… No one seems to know where we are at with that one?

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
April 2, 2014 4:27 pm
Reply to  Observer

‘Welcome to my world. Imagine the reaction today of our Congress, White
House, “news” media, and the members of the public to the 2,499 US
deaths on D-Day, June 6, 1944.’

I don’t agree Kent, I think in the UK, if the nation truly believe in the necessity of the war they would take the casualties, it’s just that recently the general public have not believed that intervention was truly in their interest.

Kent Horton
April 2, 2014 6:59 pm
Reply to  Frenchie

Yeah, but they’ll only have 18 guys to operate them all…

Phil
Phil
April 2, 2014 9:15 pm

As I’ve argued, as long as it’s someone else going to war the reality is nobody gives much of a shit about casualties unless they are (a) feeling self righteous at a dinner party in a gravelled drive Hampstead house or (b) have an axe to grind on another subject.

Once WWI was over and conscription stopped British soldiers were dying in not time at all across the old Empire despite all the grief and sorrow of the Great War. Nobody cared because it was volunteers going. You can see why the French kept the Foreign Legion…

Mark
Mark
April 2, 2014 9:42 pm

We should be intent on fighting the fights that need fighting not getting involved in every scrap that comes along as it appears we have been doing. The lies of Iraq has changed the perception quite a bit here compared to France.