Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomeNewsMoral rearmament, our soldiers’ most potent weapon

Moral rearmament, our soldiers’ most potent weapon


AS the war in Ukraine continues, and its troops fight for their lives against huge odds, what is the news from the British Army? Vegan soldiers mobilise to give leather uniforms the boot! 

If anyone needed a reminder of just how far gone our military is in woke nonsense after studies on the use of ‘Sir and Ma’am’, the appointment of a three-star general to oversee green issues and RAF recruits being able to red-card their instructors if they feel a bit tearful, then this must be it.  

Military forces exist for one purpose – to fight in defence of their country and its interests. Where did this simple truth get forgotten? 

British military doctrine describes three components of fighting power: Physical – that is, the means with which we fight; conceptual – how we fight, the doctrine, procedures, practices and tactics that we use, and moral – why we fight and for what. Napoleon famously remarked that ‘the moral is to the physical as three is to one.’  

So yes, we need to rearm physically: New equipment and more of it; new capabilities and bringing back old ones that have lapsed – such as air defence and bigger armed forces. All this needs people, lots of them, who are trained to deal with the complexities of modern equipment and modern war.  

Such people will not, however, simply enlist for military service because we want to expand. They must be motivated to do so and that means that any rearmament must be moral as well as physical.  

The basis of any moral rearmament must be a firm belief in something that is worth fighting for, a set of values that define our country.  

Could most people tell you what British, or Western, values are? I doubt it. Well, here are a few that might strike chords:  

Accountable government – what Abraham Lincoln called ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ in the Gettysburg Address of 1863.  

Sovereignty, the ability to choose our own path and our own laws, which is really what Brexit was all about.  

The rule of law, and complete equality before the law for everyone.  

The protection of the weak and vulnerable and an intolerance of discrimination.  

The acceptance that in order for everyone to have rights, everyone must accept the responsibility to uphold the rights of others.  

Freedom of speech, thought, expression, movement and association.  

An honours system that recognises public servants rather than political cronies or well-paid performers.  

What is NOT a basis for something worth fighting for is so much of what we now have: Corruption throughout politics; the shameful waste of public money on dubious aspects of dealing with Covid, the totally undisciplined NHS and the broken military procurement system. 

A teaching profession thoroughly infiltrated by the Left which teaches our children – if it teaches them anything – to hate their country; the persecution of veterans over alleged crimes on active service, decades ago; woke nonsense that exacerbates differences and perceived historical grievances and which too often encourages weakness rather than strength.  

The relentless far-Left agenda of the BBC, peddled at our expense; the fixation with the myth of climate change being caused by human activity, rather than being part of a natural cycle that can be seen recurring in the fossil record.  

I could go on, but you probably do not need telling. To root all this out of our society is quite a task and I see no one in the political landscape with the appetite even to begin. But if we are to breed soldiers for the increasingly dangerous world of the future then somewhere, somehow, we have to do so.  

It is a belief in something worth fighting for that motivates soldiers to contend with hardship and danger, to put themselves in harm’s way and accept injury and death in the service of their people. To do this takes courage, both physical and moral.  

For our leadership, moral courage is crucial: The courage to take hard decisions that will result in deaths, or to begin a progamme that will not be realised until long after those who start it have left office. The courage to tell hard truths.  

Anyone can be physically brave for a few minutes, if they have to, and earn a decoration for it. I can say this because I have a couple. But to be morally brave, speaking out against what is wrong, can be harder because it requires a consistent effort over a long period.  

In the military, it starts with little things, like making sure your soldiers, when they stop at a motorway service station, do not shamble about half-dressed without their headdress.  

How many times have you seen this and thought: ‘Now why is the officer not getting a grip?’ The answer is the want of moral courage. And a want of it in small things indicates a want of it in big things.  

What makes this sort of thing worse is the undoubted physical courage shown by our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq: Just a glance at the roll of honours and awards tells us that there is no want of physical courage in our young men and women in the face of the enemy. 

War is indeed a young person’s game at the sharp end. So where, given the behaviour of the education system and the culture of wokery that prevails everywhere, are we to find the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines of tomorrow, equipped with the moral courage to fight?  

All is not lost. Visit your local cadet unit some time – of whatever service – and you will come away with a sense that there are decent young people who care about their country, led by dedicated adult instructors who understand what service means.  

Organisations such as Huw Lewis’s fantastically successful Military Preparation College Trust harness this potential and deliver excellent recruits to the Services, and better citizens to civilian life. 

But let us not forget the older generations either. We kick people out of the Army in their mid-forties, when they are still physically fit and when they have accrued more than 20 years of service. Mad? Yes.  

When I was the deputy commander of all Nato forces in Afghanistan, aged 54, my superior was 67. No one in the US armed forces thought this at all odd, because the general concerned had a lot to offer – so let us harness the alumni as well as the youngsters.  

Experience cannot be inherited, it has to be learned the hard way and therefore should not be wasted. The Americans know this and value it, and so too, from sheer necessity, do the Israelis. Nor did I ever see age being a barrier to a fighter in the Taliban or Al Qu’eda. 

Of course, if military service is to be attractive it must be properly rewarded – there is no shame whatever in that. Good pay, decent living accommodation, proper food, an end to the nonsense of ‘pay as you dine’. We need tax breaks – in most foreign armies, a soldier serving on active duty abroad pays no tax. Ours do, and the pitiful sums given in allowances come nowhere near compensating for that grab by the Treasury.  

Priority in health care – once we had proper military hospitals, but not any longer; all that service people and veterans can expect from the much-vaunted Military Covenant is that they will not actually be punished for their service! And what about a year’s university fees for every two years served? 

In the end, this is all about resetting our culture after years of decline: Culture is that invisible barcode that we all wear, made up of history, geography, climate and weather, belief and ethnicity.  

We could start by looking hard at how history is taught, making our children proud of their country’s history and achievements rather than feeling they have to apologise for being British. It is no good apologising anyway, for as L P Hartley rightly said: ‘The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.’ 

You may tell me that all this is impossible. In reply, I offer a very pertinent example of how it is possible. In 1995 I was in command of UN troops in the besieged Bosnian enclave of Goražde. Most of my troops were from my own battalion, 1st Battalion, the Royal Welch Fusiliers – now, like all our historic regiments, destroyed.  

One company, however, was Ukrainian – about 120 men. The soldiers, mostly conscripts, were fine young men: Tough, cheerful and decent. The officers, however, were another matter. Smuggling, black-marketeering, prostitution, drug dealing – you name it – using the fuel and rations that should have gone to their own men.  

These officers were products of the Soviet system, and they knew they could make more money in a year with the UN than in the rest of their lives back home.  

The upshot was that the one thing on which Serbs and Muslims could agree was that the Ukrainians were bad news. In the end, the company was surrounded by the Bosnian army and forcibly disarmed – they offered no resistance. They were looked after by us until a Russian convoy from Sarajevo took them away.  

Yet look now at the conduct of the Ukrainian people, their army and its leadership. It has taken more than 20 years, but what a turn-around. If Ukraine can do it, we can do it. 

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Jonathon Riley
Jonathon Riley
Lt Gen Riley is a former commander of British Forces in Sierra Leone and Iraq and Deputy Commander of all Nato forces in Afghanistan.

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