Saturday, November 26, 2005

Buried in trivia

Sometimes a coincidence happens which is too important to ignore. This is one of them.

On my desk for a few days now has been a copy of an article from the October edition of the RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) Journal, headed "Britain's Armed Forces Under Threat", with a strap line reading: "A journalist's lament" (online here, but subscription only).

The article is by Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, some time defence correspondent and one of the few military historians, in my opinion, who understands the technology of warfare and its role in shaping events.

Anyhow, Hastings is in "lament mode", concerned at the indifference of the media and the public in general – to say nothing of the politicians – about defence issues. He also echoes a refrain oft rehearsed by this Blog, the absence of an informed media debate on the Services, one reason for which, he believes, is unwillingness of serving officers to give private briefings to journalists. In that context, this section caught my eye:

In the absence of informed private briefing, media debate on the Services is conducted at the shallowest possible level. For instance, many perceive a strong case for the large regiments policy. However painful for those units affected, the single battalion structure seems doomed. Yet, in the absence of effective, top-level briefing, media coverage of this issue lapsed into a familiar howl of anguish about cap badges, which does no service to the real interests of the corps of infantry.
Lo and behold! What do we see in The Daily Telegraph today? An article, no less, headed "Dismay as regiments lose their historic cap badges".

Only passing references are made by the authors, Ausian Camb and the Telegraph’s excuse for a defence correspondent, Thomas Harding, to the changes that have given rise to the new regiments and the cap badge controversy.

The reforms have been implemented to allow soldiers' greater career choice and family stability by giving them a permanent fixed base, they write, only then adding that: "It will also allegedly provide the Army, at a time when it is increasingly becoming an expeditionary force, with a greater number of battalions ready for operations despite axing the numbers from 40 to 36."

There, tucked in is that all-important reference, "an expeditionary force", a massive change in role for an Army which, since the Second World War has put most of its resources into BAOR, its cutting edge being the armoured division - and, rather conveniently, equipping the Army for its role in the European Rapid Reaction Force.

While we would not disagree that the symbolism of cap badges is important, the fact that so this is, effectively, the main topic when it comes to a major force restructuring is a massive indictment of the "dumbing down" of the media. They do us no service burying important issues in a mountain of trivia.


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