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Jobless youth turn to the army

You see them on trains in North Yorkshire, fresh-faced teenagers struggling with massive kit-bags. Only they are not off to play football or cricket. They are 16-year-olds attached to army training camps in the area, who in a year or two might end up dead or wounded in Afghanistan.

As youth unemployment has soared – almost a million young people are without work in this country – so has army recruitment, on both sides of the Atlantic. In Obama’s America, the armed forces have reached their target numbers for the first time since conscription ended in 1973. Wall Street may be booming but more than one in 10 on Main Street are unemployed and the army is seen as a “job”, providing an income and training.

In Britain, a highly sophisticated marketing campaign has seen numbers asking to join the army soar by 25% in a year despite the rising death toll in Afghanistan, stories about poor equipment and continuing reports about bullying at training schools. With few job openings for young men in particular, it is not hard to see why the promise of learning new skills and the lure of camaraderie should be a pull. So they sign up for 12 years and serve a minimum of four.

Out of the £95 million spent by the army recruiting group deployed in ten regions across Britain, over a quarter goes on marketing campaigns. And increasingly the money is lapped up by the private sector for putting together things like Internet-based packages targeted at young men who spend hours gaming online.

The army’s current recruitment platform was put together by the award-winning interactive marketing company AKQA — best know for its Nike ads as well as other campaigns. A TV and radio campaign drew people to the website when they could play an interactive game, Start Thinking Soldier. The aim was to get young people to return again and again. And it worked. The site received more than a million visits, collecting 250,000 profiles.

Many web visitors were invited to a series of events around the country, including the Wakestock festival in Wales and a custom car show in Edinburgh. Once there, visitors could drive a virtual tank and run with full kit. Almost half of the 9,500 who took part opted to receive further information, which in marketing terms is considered exceptionally high.

The moral of this story is twofold. One is that the state never tires of having to develop its message. Sign up to die for Queen and Country has gone out of the window in favour of “introducing democracy” to countries and “nation building”. The result is the same, of course. The ruling classes play war games at the expense of the poor bloody infantry who die on a foreign field not really understanding what they were doing there in the first place.

The second side of this story is that young men will continue to die needlessly while there’s nothing meaningful for them to do at home because the capitalist society they live in can’t provide a job that’s worthwhile and well paid. But that’s ok, because the stock market is booming and house prices may be on the rise again.

Putting casino capitalism out of business could and should be “sold” in a way that appeals to young men every bit as much as the army’s web-based game does. Then instead of invading countries like Afghanistan, poorer nations could be offered support on a non-military, partnership basis. Now there’s a project worth marketing!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
15 October 2009

Pat says:

Well said Paul, I campaigned for years to keep our kids from having no other alternative to unemployment but the services. But the stigma of being a scrounger living off the state is hard to get rid of now that capitalism has taken over democracy. Branded by their age our kids in housing schemes are left to wander and get ASBOS, because nobody really cares. The ones who join the army come back home from training camps with cars and lots of name branded clothes, flashing their wealth to their friends, who jump at the chance of getting the same. There are no youth clubs for them to gather with their mates. The last youth club I remember was in the 80s and it was run by academics, who banned more from their clubs than allowed members !! We need good people to set up and run youth clubs to guide our young away from the clutches of the warlords and the police. In a perfect society we would look after our young folk, for they are after all our future.

Ray says:

The above is an extremely timely comment by Paul and Pat's short comment is also true. I also think that the trade union leaders must know of these developments and the likelihood that the youth (both boys and girls) can become so alienated from their social peers to potentially become used as 'a force to be reckoned with' within the labour movement and working-class districts. The Trades Union Congress' failure to take the fight to the class enemy over the recent quarter century in particular has blighted many in the past but 'going forward' as people say, brings only paralysis from the union tops. The not so brave-heart Andrew Murray whose joint-leadership of the 'Stop the War Coalition' presently sits in the press office of the Unite/TGWU union building without so much as a word on these issues. This is a subject close to hearts of the firemen in the FBU who were scabbed upon by soldiery 31 years ago and they are threatened likewise today. The ramifications of inaction and the despair thus generated needs a widening discussion and then ... 'action'!


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