Bullying in the Army - Another damning article.

An article in today's Sunday Times:

January 23, 2005

Comment: Michael Portillo: An army that bullies its own is ready to abuse prisoners

On a Caribbean island Piers Morgan is spluttering with rage. The former Daily Mirror editor was forced into a life of leisure for publishing faked photographs of British soldiers mistreating Iraqis. He was denounced for recklessly endangering the lives of our boys.

Now a court martial in Germany has released similar images that the prosecution says are genuine. While the Mirror’s images were false, the abuse story was well founded. Morgan feels vindicated, just as Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke do. They lost their posts running the BBC because of a radio report that the government had sexed up its dossier on the reasons for the war in Iraq. Who would quibble with that now?

I feel not nearly so indignant about the British photographs as I did about the repellent images of American torture in Abu Ghraib prison. The “British” picture of a man tied to a forklift truck is appalling, but it looks like an extempore and disorganised event. The use by GIs of hoods, electric cables and dogs appeared systemic.

When Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, was first given the file he took no action to prevent recurrences. How far up the American chain of command responsibility passes remains a moot point. I feel sure that abuse was not authorised by senior ranks in the British Army, let alone by politicians.

The British government bears the blame for one thing: it is wrong that we do not count the number of Iraqis who have been killed. It suggests that we place no value on their lives. The policy is dehumanising and racist. Soldiers pick up those messages. Highfalutin rhetoric about spreading freedom, repeated in President George W Bush’s inaugural address, rings hollow if we do not care how many of those that we liberate are dead.

The pictures compound other unwelcome publicity. A week ago newspapers carried photographs of Sandhurst officer cadets wearing Nazi uniforms. In November five members of the Household Cavalry were arrested after a bottle attack on Adnan Said, a 23-year-old Syrian student, who lost his left eye. The parents of Sally Geeson want to know why the army left a sexual predator, Lance-Corporal David Atkinson, free to strangle her before killing himself.

Those could be dismissed as one-off events if there were not evidence of institutionalised problems. Four soldiers have died from firearm wounds at Deepcut barracks in Surrey (two while I was defence secretary). In some of those cases coroners have recorded open verdicts. Even if they were all suicides, as the army says, the implications are worrying.

That the deaths occurred over a seven-year period implies that there is an underlying malaise and officers have failed to deal with it.

Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, has refused to set up a public inquiry. A Surrey police report on Deepcut revealed 61 allegations of assault, 12 of indecent assault and eight of rape or gang rape. Leslie Skinner, a training instructor, was jailed last year for 4Å years after admitting indecent assaults on four soldiers aged between 17 and 21.

Responses to the army’s continuous attitudes survey based on 2,000 interviews revealed that 85% believed there was bullying. The finding was omitted from the version of the survey supplied to MPs by the government.

In the 1990s several cases of racial abuse shamed the armed forces. When Mark Parchment enlisted in the Royal Marines he was made to carry a spear on parade. He was given a special initiation for “niggers”. He was soaked with urine, attacked and had his genitals shaved. Richard Stokes resigned from the Household Cavalry when a banana was thrown at him during a rehearsal for trooping the colour. But in 1998 the Commission for Racial Equality decided not to take enforcement action against the armed forces in view of improvements in policies and practice.

A few days ago the Ministry of Defence was forced to admit that Staff Sergeant David Howard, a soldier with 22 years’ experience, had suffered racial discrimination and harassment. An employment tribunal was told that Major Robert Turnbull called Howard “Bubba” to his face, a reference to the black character with learning difficulties in the movie Forrest Gump. Turnbull has since been promoted.

All this tells me that the army’s top command is doing too little to end disgraceful practices. That is unforgivable. The army’s effectiveness is seriously hampered because many units are under strength. The bad publicity must deter recruits.

Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island focuses on the discrimination faced by Jamaicans who enlisted in the RAF during the second world war. To our national shame many of the 8,000 recruits from the West Indies experienced racism. But the book also touches on the much worse situation at the time in the American forces where blacks and whites were segregated.
85% of us believe there is bullying in the Army - is that 85% of us believe that, at some stage some bullying has occurred in the Army or is it 85% of us have either witnessed, or been subject to, bullying. Very different perspective on the same figures.

Does believe equate to proof, or have some of the responders simply answered on the basis of hearsay? In which case the figures are misleading.

A very dangerous statistic to bandy around in the press, stemming, probably, from a badly worded question.

If, however, these figures are an accurate reflection of the bullying in the Army then we really need to get our act together, stop playing with the issue and eradicate it now.

Your thoughts perhaps?
There is bullying in the army - 10 - 15 years ago the regiment (RRF) in question over the recent events in Iraq were in the Mail on Sunday for bullying their own, so the latest allegations don't surprise me.

However I say again lets keep this in context, this is schoolboy bullying, which must be punished but is nothing compared to what the enemy is doing to us.
I think the problem is the actual term 'bullying' The civvies define anything above a polite request in a normal tone of voice on something that can be debated before being complied with, as 'bullying' The idea that the squad repeats a run or assault course because they allowed x% to get left behind or fall out is bullying. They have possibly never had to respond to something immediately & unthinkingly so cannot accept that it is needed in our profession. Until we get a common definition for 'bullying'. we will always debate whether it is there or not.
My definition of bullying is when something is done for the amusement or gratification of the person giving the order, that is bullying. If what he does is solely for the purpose of giving the recruit etc. more chance of living in a bad situation, that is hard training.
My old organisation has a team especially set up to investigate bullying and I'm told they get good results. Problem seems to be getting the person who is, or thinks they are, being bullied to come forward at an early stage.
Compliance obtained by bullying is, regardless of the social context, bad. Faced with a stress situation, the soldier trained by an excess of bullying is likely to crack sooner than one motivated by 'good drills'
ORC - Agreed and well put. Trouble is, of course, that articles like this are read by all and sundry, the majority of whom have little or no knowledge of the Army. The impact on them is bound to be negative.

That said, if 85% of soldiers say that they believe there is bullying and they have the same definition (or roughly) as you and that figure reflects the amount of bullying in the Army, then we have a problem.
It is important to bear in mind that, as stated in the other thread in which the 'bullying' report is mentioned, that the figures given were extrapolated from what was actually a small sample. Much of the journalism surrounding this is no more than sensationalism.
One of the articles on the similar survey carried out in the RAF stated that 2500 personnel were surveyed, of a total of 52,000. Both surveys were carried out by MoD, so it would be reasonable to assume that a similarly small sample would be used for the Army survey.

There does not appear to be any proof that harrassment, abuse or bullying is actually occurring on anything approaching the scale suggested by these figures, which appear to have been given a sensational slant, though whether this came from the MoD or every one of the papers that reported the story isn't clear...

In organisations the size of the Forces some bullying is bound to occur, and of course this must be dealt with, but it also occurs in teaching, nursing, charities and every other large organisation.
I was not asked. but I have seen in my old unit bullying from some very high ranking officers. Not myself, but an example was one guy that was being given a hard time for no reason, He was a hard worker all his work was on time and well liked in the unit. Then one nasty piece of work with pips on his shoulder comes along, takes an instant dislike towards the bloke and made his life hell for months.
what happened when he complained? Nearly all the other officers closed ranks, only two wanted to help and back this guy up, both were sent to coventry by the other officers. There was what you would call an investigation held in the CO office, but not into the complaint as such but more with rubberising the guy who complained and making him look like he was in the wrong. I should know I typed up the report after. Every lame excuse was brought out of the bag to protect the officer in question, and anything negative they could dig out from this guys character and career was scraped up and amplified, to the point of making things up because they could not find anything, forgetting all the good work he had done over his career. They went through his P file like sherlok homes, even looked to see if he had made any funny MMA claims.
End result of making a complaint? the guy was made to look like week soldier who was making up excuses for being week at his job, the officer was just doing his job with a difficult soldier who he was helping to be a better soldier. The guy was marched in as if he was on orders and informed of this and was told to stop being silly, take this on the chin and you may get a better report, continue this and it will only do your career more harm.
So he got harassed before the complaint, Harassed during the complaint, Harassed after, how do you think was the soldiers 1st RO?
So what chance do you have of reporting an officer?
One of the characteristics of bullies is that they are convincing, and will often play on friendships or connections in order to continue to cover up their activities. The old 'I've known X for years, and I can't believe he'd ever do anything like that' syndrome, as also seen in domestic violence and child abuse cases. Bullies are invariably manipulative and will place others in a position where they are 'on-side'; and no-one likes to be thought of as a bad judge of character.

These people can be reported. I am aware of a case where a female soldier who was being sexually harrassed and bullied by a senior officer complained and got nowhere on the unit. She told Army Welfare Service, and the end result was a SIB investigation and the officer being kicked out. Those who closed ranks around him were left in no doubt as to the consequences of any repercussions. However, once the bully was exposed support for him melted away.


All this is interesting stuff. The first unit I joined - an infantry bn - was rife with bullying, in the Officers' Mess as much as the block, and life for many was absolutely miserable. What was needed was a Commanding Officer with sufficient integrity and moral courage to face down the bullies and get rid of them but it never happened when I was there, and hasn't really happened since, from what I've heard, although most of the worst bullies from my time have long gone.

I was fortunate in that being big, strong and nasty, I was never really a victim of the bullying, but even as a very junior observer of it, it was easy to see what a corrosive effect it had on morale. Thus I don't dismiss claims like this, even though it is clearly a very broad-brush generalisation to say that bullying is widespread; it is certainly there and it is certainly worth eliminating.

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