UK: New report on the effects of army training on attitudes, health, and behaviour

The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment

Veterans for Peace UK has released a new report exploring the effects of army employment on recruits, particularly during initial training. The report, drawing on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies, finds that the risk of violent offending and heavy drinking rises after joining the army.

Dan joined the army in 2006, at 18, having grown up in an area of high unemployment. He was told that military discipline would keep him out of trouble. After training he deployed to Iraq, and when he came home he assaulted a warrant officer. He was sentenced to 18 months in military prison.

‘The army’s training changed me,’ Dan said, ‘it made me more aggressive as a person. I shouldn’t have attacked that warrant officer, but I believe I wouldn’t have if that training hadn’t changed me in the first place. After the conviction the army wouldn’t support me, my mental health deteriorated and I was left feeling isolated and alone. I resorted to alcohol abuse and became homeless for a year, and I have suffered with chronic PTSD. I really believe that underlying all my problems was the effect of the training I was put through when I joined the army.’

‘I hear stories like Dan’s all the time,’ said Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier and the National Coordinator of VFP UK. ‘The report we are publishing today confirms that army training increases violent behaviour and heavy drinking even before recruits are sent to war, contradicting the common assumption that joining the army reduces antisocial behaviour.’ He went on, ‘We want to increase the public understanding of the impact military service, so that people can make better informed decisions.’

The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment (70pp) draws on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies, mainly from the UK and US, to explore the effects of army employment on recruits, particularly during initial training.

The report explains that the main purpose of army training is to mould young civilians as soldiers who will follow orders by reflex and kill on demand. It demands unquestioning obedience, stimulates aggression and antagonism, overpowers a healthy person’s inhibition to killing, and dehumanises the opponent in the recruit’s imagination. Recruits are taught that stressful situations are overcome through dominance.

The training process has a forceful impact on attitudes, health, and behaviour even before recruits are sent to war. The findings show that military training and culture combine with pre-existing issues (such as a childhood history of anti-social behaviour) to increase the risk of violence and alcohol misuse (details below). Traumatic war experiences further exacerbate the problem.

Key data:

Research in the UK and US has found that:

  • Most military personnel and veterans are not habitually violent, but are more likely than civilians to behave violently in daily life.[1]
  • They are also twice as likely to drink heavily, which is a risk factor for violent behaviour.[2]
  • These problems are greater in the army than the navy or air force.[3]
  • Army training reinforces several risk factors for violent behaviour, including antagonism, aggression, hostility to other groups, and traditionally masculine norms.[4]
  • The prevalence of violent offending increases after joining the armed forces, and increases again after personnel return from war (reaching double the pre-enlistment rate, according to a British study).[5]
  • Pre-military factors, such as a background of anti-social behaviour, combine with military factors, such as being trained for combat and experiencing traumatic events in war, to drive up the risk of violent behaviour.[6]
  • Violence and heavy drinking by veterans are serious public health problems, says the report. A British study in 2012 found that 13% of British personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan admitted behaving violently in the weeks following their return.[7] Applied to all personnel deployed to Afghanistan alone over the course of the war, this proportion is equivalent to 17,500 individuals.
  • Other consequences of army employment include elevated rates of mental health problems and unemployment after discharge, as well as poorer general health in later life, according to the report.

Source: Veterans for peace UK

---

[1] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Jones, M., et al. (2013). ‘Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: a data linkage cohort study’. The Lancet, 381, pp. 907–917; Marshall, A. D., Panuzio, J., & Taft, C. T. (2005). ‘Intimate partner violence among military veterans and active duty servicemen’. Clinical Psychology Review, 25, 862-876.

[2] Head, M., Goodwin, L., Debell, F., Greenberg, N., Wessely, S., & Fear, N. T. (2016). ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol misuse: comorbidity in UK military personnel’. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(8), pp. 1171-1180; Mattiko, M. J., Olstead, K. L., Brown, J. M., & Bray, R. M. (2011, June). ‘Alcohol use and negative consequences among active duty military personnel’. Addictive Behaviors, 36(6), pp. 608-614; McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T., et al. (2009). ‘Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: Results of a household survey’. University of Leicester, The NHS Information Centre.

[3] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Jones, M., et al. (2013). ‘Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: a data linkage cohort study’. The Lancet, 381, pp. 907–917; Marshall, A. D., Panuzio, J., & Taft, C. T. (2005). ‘Intimate partner violence among military veterans and active duty servicemen’. Clinical Psychology Review, 25, 862-876.

[4] See The First Ambush report, pp. 41-42, for detail and sources.

[5] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Jones, M. et al. (2013). ‘Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: a data linkage cohort study’. The Lancet, 381, pp. 907–917; Bouffard, L. A. (2005). ‘The military as a bridging environment in criminal careers: The differential outcomes of the military experience’. Armed Forces & Society, 31(2), 273-296.

[6] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Iversen, A. C., et al. (2011). ‘Impact of pre-enlistment antisocial behaviour on behavioural outcomes among UK military personnel’. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47(8), 1353-1358; Elbogen, E. B., Johnson, S., Wagner, R., et al. (2014). ‘Violent behaviour and post-traumatic stress disorder in US Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’. British Journal of Psychiatry, 204, 368-375; MacManus, D., Rona, R., et al. (2015). Aggressive and violent behavior among military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: Prevalence and link with deployment and combat exposure’. Epidemiologic Reviews, 37, 196-212

[7] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Al Bakir, M., et al. (2012). ‘Violent behaviour in UK military personnel returning home after deployment’. Psychological Medicine, 42, pp. 1663–1673.

Geographic terms: 

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.