Getting them while they're young

Issue section: 

"Are you between 12 and 18 and looking for excitement?" asks the ad. "How does riding in a helicopter grab you? Or even rock climbing?"

Not just helicopters and rock climbing either: we're talking bob sleighs, rugby, tanks, computer games and getting shot at. Welcome to Camouflage, the glossy recruitment magazine from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

There are several international laws preventing these youngsters going to the front line, but that doesn't stop the MoD putting them on the production line. The £1 million Camouflage website offers video clips of how cool you will be among your school mates if you enlist, and video games letting you blow people up with a tank, all for free if you register.

You also get sent a goody bag with the jingoistic magazine and a special Camouflage kitbag. Usefully, the bag carries the warning that it is to be kept away from young children as it is not a toy. Presumably the assault rifles given to new recruits also carry this precautionary warning.

It was recently revealed that over a dozen 17 year olds were "accidentally" deployed to Iraq in 2003-4. The MoD is heavily reliant on recruiting the young - 40 percent of new recruits are aged 16 or 17.

The recent fall in applicants to the MoD (from 210,800 members in 1997 to 195,900 in 2006) has led them to devise new ways of finding its soldiers.

Recently, at Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh, students were told one morning about a visit from military recruiters the following day. "We printed out some leaflets that evening and picketed the meeting the next day," said Patrick Orr, a student there. "Many students entering the meeting talked to us, and we convinced half the people to leave. There have not been any similar events since."

Elsewhere lecturers have blocked activities in further education colleges. Now the revelation that the MoD specifically targeted low income areas for underage recruitment has forced it to change tack from direct recruitment to a new scheme aimed at teachers.

According to its website, "Defence Dynamics", due to launch in September, is "an indispensable teacher toolkit, featuring 40 complete lesson plans and accompanying stimulus materials for GCSE students across four core subjects - Science, Maths, English and Geography".

So, rather than overtly trying to recruit wearing camouflage and flak jackets, the MoD think it will be far easier to camouflage the propaganda and hide it in the curriculum itself.

Find out more about School Students Against War at