Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Exploitation of Our Armed Forces?

Courtesy of the Guardian newspaper
Until about two years ago, you had (among a very small number) SSAFA and the British Legion, organisations comprising veterans who devoted much time and effort to raise funds for recovered personnel and their families during times of conflict. Then came Help for Heroes, a wonderful organisation that does pretty well what it says on the tin.

This is all good stuff and a sign that the heart of the nation still beats with a care for those who defend its borders or those unable to defend themselves.

Then we started seeing the Wootton Bassett effect which started off as the outpouring of grief from the wider circles of friends of repatriated fallen servicemen and women. Eventually, the bus to Bassett became the one to board whether you knew the soldier in the hearse or not, and in many ways, is another sign that the heart of the nation still beats as it should. It perhaps took on some of the Diana Effect where people would publicly express visible grief at the death of strangers.

In recent days something has become apparent to me that forms a strange blend of encouraging and troubling. In adverts for a whole array of different products and services, most recently the mighty WeightWatchers, there has been an increase in the 'use' of the armed services (and in particular those in Afghanistan) in the advertising. The example I cite is a woman who wanted to be slim for the return of her husband from his tour of duty. In other words, it feels just a little like the men and women of our armed services are becoming commercial currency.

Part of me thinks that we have finally come to terms that we are sending people into harms way; part of me that 'heroes' is a new and very emotive and lucrative bandwagon. I am not so sure I would mind if I didn't know that some of these present day heroes, when their day is done, become very quickly forgotten when they come home and are discharged from their military units (except perhaps those who suffer horrific visible injuries, and quite rightly so). 

I wonder if I am being churlish. Why shouldn't our armed forces receive some much needed publicity? I think, though, that when men and women in mortal danger become the stuff of a slimming advert, that we may have gone too far. The soldiers I have contact with, with less visible but no less life limiting injuries, do not enjoy this use of their specific risk and would value a few shekels from the profits of the companies selling their goods on the back of their sweat and toil. 


  1. I think that not much has changed in some respects since Rudyard Kipling wrote 'Tommy Atkins'.

    Many service people and their families in the UK today are living in sub-standard accommodation. Which if it was a Social Housing, would be condemned as unfit for occupation.

    Across the board, their terms and conditions and pay and allowances are being squeezed and the face another drastic revision of the Armed Forces pension scheme (the third in 10 years).

    Now in the face of fiscal mismanagement during the tenure of the last government, many thousands more face redundancy. For them, it's just about losing your job, its losing your home as well. It wasn't Private Atkins who mismanaged finance and procurement - it was the politicians and the Generals and Officers set over them.(They by the way, retire on a comfortable package, far superior to Private Atkins).

    The Armed Forces are a vital asset for the country, we treat them badly at our peril, who can blame those who seek a few extra pennies from adverts that you describe. The companies involved will jump at the chance of exploiting them, its about profits, no matter what.

    The is an Armed Forces Covenant, which previous governments promised would be observed, but all to often was ignored. David Cameron when coming into government, promised that it would be enshrined in law, rather than be a written aspiration. This he has singularly failed to do. Sure, it is enshrined in law, but it is only advisory or discretionary and can be ignored if it doesn't suit whatever party is in power.

    I served 43 years, the day that I retired was both extremely sad, but a tremendous relief. Years of overwork and overcommitment for me personally came to an end. But I left behind many more who are now facing redundancy, and despite government promises, a bleak future.

    In the recent redundancy exercise for the Army (Phase 1) it was three times oversubscribed. Most of the best wanting to get out early. In most cases, abandoning a life and job that was for them a vocation and that they loved.

    They've fought to many wars for little thanks, and now see their profession being downgraded to the status of a security guard or the world's policeman. (In fact, if they leave and sign up with the private security companies operating in places like Afghanistan they can quadruple their wages, taking less risks).

    Tommy Atkins got it right first time around.

    1. I think maybe there is an assumption here that members of the Armed Forces may have received financial benefit from the use of their image in advertising. Call me cynical if you must but I rather doubt that they have. I suspect they will have been represented by members of the acting profession and that no benefit at all will have filtered down to them - it's just a profitable image!

  2. It's certainly telling, isn't it? We have similar marketing ploys here in the U.S. That said, I'm sure glad that your returning military & ours are not treated with the disdain & vitriol that Viet Nam vets received. Now I wish (and pray) our country would do a better job of helping our many, many wounded warriors (physically and psychologically) get the much needed help they deserve - - and it won't be Weight Watchers :)



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