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Colour, gender, religion: there’s more than political correctness to the new British Army recruitment campaign

The British Army’s new recruitment videos are rather surprising. Instead of depicting masculine, gun-wielding warriors on the battlefield, they feature, short, alluring animations that speak to those who would not ordinarily volunteer for the most respected of national institutions. The message of these animations is clear: the army will accept you without judgement and welcome you into its family, irrespective of whether you are a woman, gay, a practising Muslim, emotionally vulnerable or even physically unfit.

Appealing to the so-called “snowflake generation”, this campaign deviates from its “Be the Best” predecessor, which was criticised as “dated, elitist and non-inclusive”. Yet, resistance to this “overly politically correct” campaign remains.

Those defending the status quo, prioritise the defence of the realm over the army being representative of society. Their belief is that the traditional macho warrior (implicitly, and often explicitly, conceived of as white, straight and male) makes the best fighter. Characterised by an unflappable stoicism, unquestionable patriotism, physical superiority and a cool but ruthless drive to get the job done, these soldiers are the most likely to excel in combat – at least according to some.

In more ways than one, especially for the more “progressive” among us, the new campaign is an indubitably positive one: it has wide appeal, draws in people from all sections of British society, and in a time of rising Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia and hate crime, presents the army as a truly diverse and cosmopolitan force.

Indeed, seen in light of US President Donald Trump’s injunction to “ban” all transgender soldiers, the British Army comes across as shockingly enlightened, even humane. But lest we forget, Britain is in a state of permanent war.

Reports of special forces deployments – likely ongoing – have been documented as recently as October 2016 in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

These shadow wars are animated by national interest and have generated their own insecurities at both home and abroad in ways that reveal the clear limits to using military power in foreign policy.

But more importantly, perhaps, is the fact that just as heteronormativity is not the sole reserve of heterosexuals (see author and academic Jasbir Puar on “homonationalism”) so militarisation – in its many guises, but specifically for our purposes here, through the targeted nature of the recruiting campaign – need not be limited to white, straight, men.

And herein lies both the seduction and the danger of these “inclusionary” army videos. Through mass appeal and in the face of an ever-expanding remit of who constitutes a “good” soldier, the army becomes more attractive to those who might have otherwise voiced opposition to it.

We arguably see here the active militarisation of civil society, and a population subtly inured to the politics and violence of conflict. The British Army is a “killing machine”, embroiled in covert wars that actively destroy the lives and livelihoods of many innocent people in other parts of the world.

These videos also cleverly gloss over sexism and racism within the ranks of the army. Deploying the language of “exception”, the army is posited as much kinder, much more familial and much more feminist than the “normal” jobs out there. As we know, the army is no paragon of egalitarianism and justice, but even more crucially what the construction of the army as a “safe space” does is exacerbate the difference between “home” and “abroad”. “We” in Britain have feminism, diversity and liberalism, “they” over there, where we fight, have sexism, intolerance and abuse. The legitimisation for war is brilliantly folded into these videos, reifying difference and celebrating “British values”.

Ultimately, the army videos are a stroke of genius. And that might be one of the biggest obstacles we face if we are truly in the game for a more peaceful and less racist world.

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