Ahead of Britain’s Armed Forces Day this weekend, Veterans For Peace U.K. are releasing several short, dark, mordant films as part of their campaign against enlisting 16-year-olds into the armed forces. The UK is the only EU member and one of only nineteen countries worldwide, including North Korea and Iran, that still recruits 16-year-olds, a practice that’s been challenged by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and many other human rights groups. Still, figures released in 2014 show that one of four new recruits there were too young to vote, drink or smoke, but not to die: Though younger recruits are mostly not sent to war until they turn 18, rights groups ForcesWatch and Child Soldiers found in 2013 that soldiers who enlisted at 16 were twice as likely to die in Afghanistan as those who joined at 18 or older.
Calling the recruiting of eminently pliable, barely in puberty, usually poor 16-year-olds “sick” and “a sinister thing,” Veterans For Peace created the Action Man Battlefield Casualties films and dolls with artist Darren Cullen and filmmaker Price James. They are modelled on official Armed Forces toy soldiers launched in 2009 by the Ministry of Defense; aimed at four to nine-year-olds, they include a Predator drone playset. The veterans’ versions are a tad more realistic. PTSD Action Man comes with “thousand-yard stare action,” as well as anti-depressants, booze, drugs and noose. Paralyzed Action Man (“legs really don’t work”) comes with wheelchair, colostomy bag and “Benefits Cancelled” letter. Dead Action Man comes with his own body bag; “coffin sold separately.”
The films are being released at midnight Tuesday – the same day an exhibit also opens at a London gallery – after which they will be online at veteransforpeace.org.uk. Veterans who know better are aiming to “unpick the propaganda (of) the glory of soldiering” at June 27th’s Armed Forces Day, where organizers promise lots of “family fun” and “exciting military demonstrations” aimed at kids who don’t know better.
They also seek to counter the blithe message of military recruiters that life in the army is “challenging and fun.” The Ministry of Defense argues it doesn’t recruit in schools; it just “provides career advice and curriculum support” to kids during their 11,000 visits to schools each year, part of the government’s $56 million “military ethos in schools” program. They are also planning to invest another $17 in 100 new cadet forces in state schools to build what David Cameron calls “character, grit and determination.” “Britain’s Armed Forces have an incredibly proud history,” he writes in a “learning resource” created by the Ministry of Defense for schools. “I hope this will be the beginning of your interest in Britain’s Armed Forces – the finest and bravest in the world.” The Army’s head of recruitment strategy has likewise described a longtime strategy of getting ’em young: “It starts with a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show and thinking, ‘That looks great.’ From then the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip.” Kinda like a colostomy bag.