Any society that wishes to remain united risks dangerous corrosion from an obsession with identity politics. National cohesion is essential for day to day life, both in social and economic terms, and the Brexit referendum was an expression of the British peoples’ understanding of this need. The dangers of disunity are dramatically amplified in times of national crisis. Take Covid-19 for example, where in some sections of our society long-standing prejudices, mistrust, superstition or outright rejection of authority have led to reluctance in observing social distancing rules and vaccine take-up, endangering the whole population.
Identity politics are even more hazardous in the armed forces. We are watching with great concern as individual identity and personal preferences seem increasingly to be given greater priority than the needs of the group. The Ministry of Defence has launched a six-month “Diversity and Inclusion” review, headed by a lieutenant general along with the civilian Director of Diversity & Inclusion, a new post salaried at £110,000 per year, more than any combat commander below brigadier rank. No doubt they will be supported by a mass of staff including the 44 MOD civil servant posts that, according to the previous Veterans’ Minister, have “diversity” and “inclusion” in their job titles.
According to media reports this review will scrutinise ranks and forms of address that are considered “gender specific”, such as able seaman, guardsman and first sea lord. For some inexplicable reason the Infantry and Royal Marines rank of colour sergeant is also said to be under scrutiny. Rather than adapt rank to gender, eg guardsman or guardswoman, there seems to be a determination in some quarters towards re-branding for gender neutrality. The RAF has even reportedly considered changing the rank of aircraftman and aircraftwoman to “air-per” (sic).
Each military member of this board has commanded forces in action over many years. Throughout our careers, the need for fairness and inclusivity for all was paramount to each of us. It is essential for morale, which as Napoleon himself said, is three times more important in battle than all physical factors combined. Our fear is that the MOD’s seemingly obsessive focus on identity politics and other woke issues will have the opposite effect of what is apparently intended, undermining morale and therefore combat effectiveness.
Membership of an all-volunteer force is not for everybody and trying to make it so by being all things to all men (or all persons as the MOD would insist), can only weaken fighting capability. Physical frailty or lack of mental determination render some men and women unsuited to military service. Those who actively support extreme political ideologies such as communism cannot be trusted with defence of the realm which demands political neutrality. Are those unwilling to subordinate their own needs for the good of the service likely to have the required robustness and commitment when the bombs are exploding and the bullets flying? If having long hair, wearing a beard or being addressed by your preferred pronoun is more important than conforming to military discipline and uniform standards of conduct perhaps the armed forces is not the right career for you.
We are not so much concerned with preserving historic ranks, though shared history and tradition have long been recognised in all armies as providing pride, inspiration and a sense of belonging — continuity with the past that helps underpin cohesion and fighting spirit today. If the rank of colour sergeant is considered suspect, will regimental colours be next for the chop, proudly emblazoned as they are with battle honours that many today would consider politically incorrect and wish to write out of history? There is an excellent principle to use here: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Our real concern is that this latest review is part of a pattern that risks diverting the armed forces away from its purpose of fighting for our country and towards highly publicised role-playing in a social engineering experiment. We recently raised the alarm about an apparent obsession with green energy which, while good for virtue signalling senior officers’, officials’ and ministers’ woke credentials, will undoubtedly harm our fighting effectiveness. These preoccupations indicate an alarming complacency over the likelihood of having to engage in battle in the future, a complacency that we do not share.
Fighting a “social justice” war, especially when the Sewell Commission on Race & Ethnic Disparities has just reported that our country does not need one, not only undermines the capacity to fight a real war but also harms the second primary purpose of the armed forces: deterrence. We very much doubt that the target audiences for the MOD’s political correctness are in Beijing, Moscow or Tehran, but have absolutely no doubt that the highly incorrect generals in those cities are watching with satisfaction as they calculate how far they can push Great Britain and our NATO allies in their increasingly aggressive grey zone warfare. Getting your enemy to misdirect itself and thereby to self harm is one of Sun Tzu’s war-winning strategies. Just as we earlier noted that the PLA is exempted from messing with the best and safest energy dense fuels as the MoD says that it plans to do, we have little doubt that, in line with the Chinese Communist Ministry of State Security’s far-reaching and skilful Influence Operations, the PLA will not allow the distraction of identity politics to interfere with its quest for maximum military efficiency while at the same time encouraging us to do so. Are we so naïve as to think that the explosion of identity politics in the heart of our open societies following the death of one black petty criminal under the knee of one criminally over-zealous white policeman is entirely unrelated to Sun Tzu’s principal advocacy of the power of moral disarmament of one’s enemy?
Our politicians may wish to pursue a descent into ever-increasing depths of identity politics and all-dominating wokeness. But to have the freedom for such policies requires armed forces that are exempt from it so that they retain the edge and the steel to defend our democratic power to do so. To adapt an old adage, the armed forces might have to fight for political correctness but they cannot afford to practice it.