It is not possible to discern much from the official statements of the British Army. When all is going well, we are regaled with insights into the Values and Standards of the British Army, helpfully inscribed also in its official publications. We were told by the former Chief of the General Staff, Richard Dannatt, that:
The British Army has a worldwide reputation for excellence, a strong reflection of its soldiers and officers. This reputation derives from, and depends upon, unequivocal commitment, self-sacrifice and mutual trust. Our Values and Standards are vital to operational effectiveness – they are the lifeblood that sustains the Army.
Among the values enumerated as the “lifeblood” of the Army are ‘selfless commitment,’ ‘courage,’ ‘discipline,’ ‘integrity,’ ‘loyalty’ and ‘respect for others.’ When things go wrong, and these values disappear in the practice of unlawful killings, torture, or other abuses, the ‘exceptional’ character of these events are stressed. A few rank and file members may be punished, and then- again- the “values” of the army are clarified, its public service affirmed, and its good deeds lauded. At the Baha Mousa Inquiry, established to investigate the death of an Iraqi hotel receptionist in British detention during the occupation of Iraq, for example, the British Army presented as evidence a series of extracts from a training video titled Doing the right thing on a difficult day. Those extracts show, visually, the ‘values’ of the British Army in action. Introducing the video as evidence was a clear attempt to show that the ethos of the Army was not reflected in the death of innocent Iraqis.
For those who see something more than mere exceptional pathology in the remarkably frequent breaches of the Army’s ‘values’ over the course of its history, it is therefore necessary to look outside official channels to discern what the Army might really be thinking. One such proxy for the true ‘values’ of the Army is the Army Rumour Service (ARRSE; yes, really), which is an online discussion forum that purports to have been first established by two serving army officers and whose participants undoubtedly include a large number of presently serving members of the armed forces. The site stresses its ‘unofficial’ status but lauds having been referenced in the media and by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. It also repeatedly stresses its humorous nature. This later move appears intended to preempt what I am about to discuss. But let us be clear: humour is not neutral. It is in fact deeply political and in many cases its employment serves to mask the expression of thoughts, prejudices, and- yes- values that are knowingly contrary to that which is officially pronounced.
The website is constituted by several elements. An online forum on a variety of topics makes up the bulk of the new content, reviews of army-related books and films are posted elsewhere, and a Wikipedia-style ‘ARRSEPedia.’ This latter collection of articles intended to convey “knowledge, opinions, sense of humour and experience” is what I will focus on here. It is worth noting at the outset that this section of the site has a set of policies for its use. Among that which is deemed “totally unacceptable” is “hardline extremist views, racism in particular.” The site is apparently moderated to meet this condition. With that in mind, let’s take a brief look into what the British Army really thinks about:
Africa is an “ungovernable shit hole” because “the indigenous population wanted rid of the only thing that kept them fed and watered… us,” thus “vast tracts of sub-Saharan Africa have been catapulted back to the neolithic era – right down to cannibalism, mud huts and sharp, pointy sticks.”
Arabs are “a bunch of cunts,” “mad feckers,” “an entire race with a massive chip on their shoulder behaving like a 16yr [sic] old chav over being ‘disrepected,’” and not “mentally balanced.”
Arabic is “savage, foreign jibber jabber, usually delivered at breakneck speed and amidst a shower of missiles – both rocks and ordnance” with “bloody minded” speakers.
Bradford is “a city in West Yorkshire that used to be famous as a centre of the textile industry. Nowadays, the dark, satanic mills have been replaced by dark, satanic mosques and the myriad minarets pierce the skyline like a SCUD convention.”
Chinese people are “slanty-eyed foreign devils much in the same vein as the Japanese.”
Homosexuals are “cackpipe cosmonauts, semen demons, uphill gardeners, fudgepackers, trump pushers, those who ‘bat from the pavilion end’ and ‘take the other bus’ to get there.” “How do you deal with them? Mince thoroughly and sell as luxury cat food to the rich and famous. Sir Elton is in particular demand for moggies belonging to Saudi princes.”
Islam is “the world’s largest religion (and if it isn’t … they’ll just keep blowing up infidels till it is).”
Palestine is “normally spelt I s r a e l.”
These then are the values of the British Army as espoused by its self-proclaimed largest unofficial discussion forum. A website that has been cited in the Houses of Parliament. A website frequented by serving members of the armed forces. Its racial prejudices reflect the historical shifts in its operations: equally derided are the Japanese, Chinese, Afghanis, and Arabs. Interestingly, the Irish get away with only a minimal attack by being branded a “toilet” and for their “crap weather.” The latter reflects, most likely, the assumption of racial homogeneity between Ireland and the remainder of the British Isles. Views on women and LGBT individuals are as would be expected for an organisation grounded in patriarchal sentiment.
None of this, of course, will be surprising for those of us who have had the dubious pleasure of meeting prospective officers of the British Army, who drink themselves through university before attending Sandhurst, and wrap all their racist, sexist, and homophobic views under the name ‘banter,’ no matter what that might be. Nor would it be surprising to any of the civilians with whom the British Army has come into contact with in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. At its roots the British Army remains a symbol of racial and sexual privilege but is all the more dangerous for coupling these with- quite simply- the ability, even the right, to harm others. Nonetheless, it is always interesting to find such views openly expressed, inscribed nonetheless for all to see. It is these views that we should remember whenever the army kills, tortures, or rapes (civilians or female soldiers) during its activities.
These values are the “lifeblood” of the British Army above all else.