Military Recruitment: Targeting The Vulnerable – An Australia Context

Reason to Believe: Ethical questions as to the existence of a military recruitment strategy targeting society’s vulnerable in an Australia context.

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J (J) R-R.

AB-MMH-D.A. hc


GSI – Revised 2014

Ed 5.

Reason to Believe: They’re Coming for Your Kids

Ethical questions as to the existence of a military recruitment strategy targeting society’s vulnerable in an Australia context.

Abstract – Why investigate recruitment practices in Australia?

It shall be demonstrated that the literature clearly show an historical precedent of intentional covert sociological and psychologically coercion tactics being used by our closest allies in their military recruitment practices. From these data it is posited that there is an increased likelihood that Australia is engaged in similar, if less publicised, activities that would benefit from further exploration. The blatant way in which western pop culture glorifies violence and a “hero mythology” (HM) in video game and film media falls within this category and shall be the first to be explored.

Secondly, similar insidious recruiting activities include the specific infiltrating of educational institutions, such as primary and high schools, and their affiliated extracurricular organisations; in particular here the youth social organisation of “the Scouts” will be examined.

It will be shown that the capitalisation on the “hero myth” actively cultivated in early childhood from, all too often, defence department funded and influenced video games and films, is additionally considered an effective tool in recruiting practice. The applied benefit of such investments can be seen in military recruitment advertisements and advertising protocols. This shall be explored.

Further; it shall be unequivocally demonstrated that these tactics are not coincidental nor accidental: but rather entirely intentional, directed and well understood coercive psychological methods.

Since Australia is a westernised country, similar to those exposed most readily by the literature; it is  reasonable to suspect this effect will be visible in the recruitment strategies applied in Australia and, thus, warrants further investigation.

Introduction Brief

BRAINWASHING” IS A COLLOQUIAL TERM for a genuine set of known advanced psychological manipulation techniques for coercive persuasion. More appropriately; a set of applied “social–psychological and … well-understood social influence techniques that together can limit a person’s freedom of choice, action, and critical thinking” (Andersen and Saribay, 2012). There is evidence to suggest that the conventional wisdom of certain military organisations in the west holds it to be “best practice” to target the vulnerable, as defined by multiple markers, in order to reach recruitment and retention targets (Watkins and Sherk, 2008). Where such policies are manifest, a coercing of their targets may be observed; pushing them towards military recruitment from an early age.

Measures such as poverty, youth and lower levels of education have been taken advantage of for recruitment purposes in countries similar to Australia. These countries include allies as close as the United States of America (USA) (Watkins and Sherk, 2008) and the United Kingdom (UK) (Gee, 2007). This raises questions as to whether such a practice is the norm for recruitment targeting in Australia as well and, if so, what would be the ethical implications of such a practice in the Australian context.

Focusing on defence involvement in hidden and misleading recruiting practice, and utilising the markers of age; education levels; and the demographic background of recruits: The purpose of this study is to explore and expose the intentional targeting of Australia’s more vulnerable citizens for early recruitment into military service.


This research is important as, in a time of drone technology and mercenary armies, the question must be asked: if it so that the vulnerable of Australia are indeed being targeted by intentional, advanced psychological recruiting and indoctrination methods in order to ensure enrollment and low attrition is it –

1. Ethically justified.  And further;

2. Is it even a necessary practice for the modern armed forces; if it ever was.

Research is needed to confirm the existence of such a recruitment strategy and to examine the effectiveness of such a strategy in an Australian context, to inform the ethical discussion on this matter.

Targeting the Vulnerable: Hollywood, Gaming and the CIA

Bogs and Pollard (2006 in Boyd-Barret et al, 2011) talk about the observation of a parallel between Hollywood films and the militarization of the USA.  It is observed that before America enters a war there is a concentration on the horror of war for soldiers and civilians; whereas after America joins a conflict, the film culture changes to concentrate on heroes and adventure (Boyd-Barret et al, 2011).

According to David Rob, author of “Operation Hollywood”, It is possible that this has something to do with P-FLU (the Pentagon Film Liaison Unit); an active military division with offices at the Pentagon (2D967) under the command of defence department liaison Phillip Strub (Fleischer, 2004). It is here films are pre screened by Generals and Admirals to ensure nothing objectionable to the image of the armed services makes it to the silver screen (Fleischer, 2004). This accusation is not denied, indeed, Phil Strub is given credit at the end of many blockbuster Hollywood films (Algezeera, 2012).

PFLU division was formed to offer approved films  access to military bases, fighter jets planes,  tanks and other military equipment, often completely  free of charge; even offering the use of off duty personnel to act as extras (Algezeera, 2012). The Pentagon, in exchange, gets script access and final editing privileges “to ensure accurate portrayal of the military”. In the words of Maj. David Georgi of the US Army “If they don’t do what I say, I take my toys and go away.” (Fleischer, 2004).  Gregory Bishop, US Army Public Affairs Division, stated it is imperative defence personnel are depicted “in an accurate and plausible manner…to help with recruiting” (Algezera , 2012). This is arguably a concern due to the potential for abuse.

For example, films made by decorated war veterans, like Oliver Stone (Bronze Star for Valour; Purple Heart), and film scripts based on accounts told by military veterans such as “Platoon”, “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket”, showing the horror of war, were denied such support (Aljazeera, 2012). This is in contrast to films which display a “more accurate” depiction of military life, such as the “Transformers” and the “Iron Man” and “Avenger” series, which qualified in meeting these stringent criteria (Fleischer, 2004). The Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” even had military recruitment booths at the cinema (Aljazeera, 2012). This is important so that, if inspired by the “accurate and plausible” portrayal of military life in, for example, “Transformers: Dark side of the moon”, a teenager may immediately enlist either after the film or, perhaps, on a toilet break before buying more popcorn.

This strategy has been demonstrated to work. There are recorded spikes in enlistment following films such as “Iron man”, “Avengers” or “Top Gun” (Aljazeera, 2012), and Generals having creative control also makes it easier for congress to continue to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the armed forces (and for voters to stomach it). This is as, though the children are the main target, the public at large are persistently seeing positive images of the armed forces up on the silver screen (Fleischer, 2004). This continues despite the Supreme Court ruling that it is unconstitutional in practice (Fourth Circuit Ruling, 1995).

If there is even the possibility that anything similar is going on in Australia, this warrants further investigation. Another common social fixture in Australia which may have been permeated by the military is the seemingly innocent organisation of the Scouts.

Targeting the Vulnerable: the Scouts

Targeting children is a long held adage of military recruiting. From Mickey Mouse Club marching, to pentagon papers showing favour for taking “Mickey Mouseketeers” to see just how “child friendly” nuclear submarines really are (Fleischer, 2004). Gone are the days of Mickey Mouse, however, a new fertile recruiting ground has perhaps been found in the dens of the Scout’s.

Scouts Director of Alumni relations William Steele speaks proudly of the “strong” military connection between  Scouts organisations and the defence forces; showing “no surprise” that so many Scouting alumni go on to serve in their country’s armed forces (2010). The Australian Scouts find a similar position, their dens founder Robert Badem-Powell, himself  a  Lieutenant-General and chief of staff in the British Armed Forces, saw fit to enact many military commonalities into the Scout movement;  from saluting the flag; to the khaki and beret uniforms; to the swearing of an oath to serve the country; to marching; to following orders without question: the similarities are hardly hidden (Scout Promise & Law, 2013).

Indeed, his book “Aids to Scouting” was originally intended for use as a military training manual (Peterson, 2003), before finding its civilian recruiting application through the already established out door youth club the “Boys’ Brigade” (Smith, 2011). General Powell is even quoted as saying his reason for forming the Scouts was with military recruiting in mind; rewriting the “Scouting for Boys ” edition because the quality of the young men he had recruited for the Boer War were such that only about one in ten admitted were actually “fit for duty” (Peterson, 2003). Even if psychological operations, per se, can not be shown conclusively to be known to General Powell in this period; it is impossible to deny scouts began as a military inlet, when the founder openly admits this was a central motivation in the fashioning of Scouting (Smith, 2011). But today, however, psychological operations are well understood (Harcourt, 2011).

“[S]couts must follow orders without question” and the focus on “adventure” to entice, but then in order to induce this servitude: marching; merit ranks; and depersonalisation through uniforms and artificial peer hierarchy creation is all in line with military attitudes and advertisement principles (Anderson and Sarisbay, 2012; Swanson, 2012; Peterson, 2003; BBCSS, 2004). “Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man”; so goes the 17th-century Jesuit expression of St Francis Xavier (Schwickerath, and Coiabgb,1903). Who could have known, at the time, that Xavier was identifying a  neurological truism regarding plasticity? Ingrained learning, such as language acquisition or musical prowess, does indeed appear to retard if not acquired by age 7 (Mayberry, 2007).

Not only is behavioural manipulation better understood in the 21st century, but there is evidence such social engineering is active in community intelligence operations today. The common rationalisation for this in government reasoning appears to be that “[w]hile the free thinking people … may be loathe to utilize technologies which can be construed as mind control, its enemies have no such compunction” (Hancock, 2010). The use of such techniques is in line with current military intelligence doctrine. Through memetic repetition conditioning, for example; a scout leader could use authority to guide children; engender belonging and need for approval; offer security (particularly to females; offer power through dominance and competition (especially to males); and by identifying other scout leader susceptible to agent influence to ideas such as “military life provides structure; job security” and others (Hancock, 2010). This will have additional knock on effects between parents (Hancock, 2010) and it becomes unimportant if all are convinced; although a “saturation point” is desirable. This technique makes additional sense as the number one marker of future military service is approval of the parent (especially the mother) (Sackett and Mavor, 2004).

As to whether this is strategy is effective in the case of schools and Scouts, Gen. David Petreaus and American Defence Secretary Robert Gates count themselves among the thousands who share in this continuing tradition of Scout to military service follow through (Steele, 2010). This practice, none the less, runs afoul of UN conventions and international law to not target military recruits under the age of 10, or encourage enlistment under 18 (Child Soldiers International, 2000). It is also current practice to give discounts to Australian Defence Force (ADF) families, and allow scouts to earn badges with the tri-logo of sea -land –air (Navy, Infantry, Airforce) in the back ground (Snowdon, 2008).  An example of one such badge, complete with the all too Australian symbols of the pentagon, eagle, anchor and star (taken from the Queensland chapter of the Australian Scouts web page) can be found in appendix A. This alone is surely reason enough for further investigation into the recruiting techniques of this country.

Targeting the Vulnerable: Games of War

Known as “soft propaganda” Jenkins (2009 in Boyd-Barret et al, 2011) maintains that the Federal  Bureau of Investigations is, and has been, in on both influencing video games and editing Hollywood films from essentially the inception of both; from as early as the 1930’s. The FBI office was to merge with the pentagon office in 1947 (Boyd-Barret et al, 2011). With occurrences like the so called “Nintendo Medal” now being offered by the US armed forces for drone pilots (Dwyer, 2013), it is difficult to believe there is an argument that the vulnerable are not being actively targeted.

This award is just beneath the “Medal of Honour” and above both the “Bronze Star” and “Purple Heart” (Dwyer, 2013). Add to this challenger II tank controls that look exactly like play station controls (Rayner, 2012), CIA front companies posing as video game companies, as well as games manufacturers openly admitting to accepting military contracts (Dwyer, 2013); some form of  predatory youth indoctrination by the armed forces of the west is about the only tenable explanation. Professor of Communications and Journalism at Suffolk University Boston, Nina Huntemann, has traced decades of the military use of computer game technology (Rayner, 2012). The US Department of defence, in fact, spends millions of dollars on video games targeted at the young audience (Susca, 2012; Boyd-Barret et al, 2011). Historian Nick Turse revealed, in a separate account, that tens of millions of military dollars was being given to the University of Southern California (USC), Creative Arts Faculty, with video games to be a focus (2008).

Targeting the Vulnerable: Mens Rae – Misleading with Intent

Between video games, Hollywood style films and the sterile news media; the realities of violent war are well hidden in the west. If military is such a fantastic opportunity for travel, free education and adventure: why then the iron clad contracts; the 300% above average suicidal ideation in ADF; and the highest suicide rates of all time, with the US currently up to nearly a death per hour (Reuters, 2013). There are reasons.

Recruiters rely on misleading views about the reality of war, they capitalise on sterile news media, video games and Hollywood hero myth (Sackett and Mavor, 2003). They promise to pay for degrees, if the recruit will just owe the years back; counting on an instant gratification culture having produced an inability to accurately anticipate long term goals in their marks (Rosen et al, 2013). Many targets are high school drop outs with criminal records and known impulsive proclivities (Gee, 2007). The use of long known techniques, such as artificial peer group construction (Ofshe, 1961), and hypnotic repetition of paired buzz words such as “adventure”, for example, of course beginning with film (Sackett and Mavor, 2003), seen again in Scouts (Scout Promise & Law, 2013), and advised to be used overtly in the recruitment literature (Sackett and Mavor, 2004): is all enacted with intent.

The institution takes on a paternalist role, capitalising on the need to seek approval of the father or authority, illustrated most famously in the Milgram obedience study (1963; Milgram, 1974), where participants demonstrated willingness to apply fatal electric shock to a stranger for no other reason than someone in authority told them to do so, and subsequent cross cultural replications and explorations such as Blass (2012).

Additionally, the “Zimbardo Stanford Prison experimental” model (see Haney, Banks and Zimbardo, 1973A/B) and it’s proceeding literature show the power of roles and informal social controls in commanding the behaviour of others. A focus on social identity theory, ensuring a cultural identity with the authority figure in obedience, has further been identified in replication and extension (Reicher et al, 2012; Haslam and Recher, 2012; Bocchiaro and Zimbardo, 2010; Burger 2009); something ensured in the military context. These all lend credence to the power of roles and structure in the covert coercive manipulation of behaviour seen in this form of recruiting strategy.

Targeting the Vulnerable : Animal and BioSocial  Models for Control

Recent work by Izuma at CalTech (California Institute of Technology) has begun to elucidate neurobiological underpinnings for conformity (2013). The research includes a mapping of how human influence in persuasion, coercive persuasion, may recruit similar mechanisms to operant reinforcement learning (Izuma, 2013). One of the most difficult elements of a project like this one, is getting people to accept just how easily, and fundamentally biological, it is to control the human animal. This is especially so when one is in a position to manipulate the entire environment (CIA, 2012).  The phenomenal work on learned helplessness, identified in animal torture models, supports the use of these techniques for recruitment and retention (Seligman, 1972).

These animal models include the variations of animal torture and stress tests. Most critically these include the electrified floor task, where a dog or another animal is chained to an electrified floor torture pad so that it can not escape and, after a period of time, even when unchained the animal will not attempt to move away from the torture pad (Swanson et al, 2012; Anisman and Merani, 2009). Also the forced swim model, where an animal left in a tank to drown will tread water for far longer if it has been  rescued once before (Can et al, 2012). This all comes together to support Seligman’s theory that helplessness can be taught, and that it has a base which is heavily biological in nature such that it is difficult to shift through cognitive methods alone (Swanson et al, 2012).

Further, the influence of conformity culture identified by Asch inform this research. These are the studies where by it was found an agent will undertake an action, even when the subject knows it to be unethical or inaccurate, in order to please the in-group (1955). For, in the same way, by having a vulnerable member of society sign a contract that is all but inescapable, of “their own volition”, and immersing them in a culture of de-identified conformity: the ability for a service member to ever choose to leave or, should they be discharged, the likelihood that they will be released without being severely traumatised (even without exposure to ‘active engagement military trauma’) is slim to none.

These are some of the clinical reasons why the targeting of young, poor and uneducated individuals in our society is arguably unethical and, as such, requires investigation into its goings on in Australia.

Targeting the Vulnerable: The iron clad contract

The contract is of key importance to psychological manipulation of this kind, although it may also be key in the high rates of suicide (CIA, 2012). After one signs the service contract, the defence force can securely never let the subject out, if they so choose (Gee, 2007; Santiago v Rumpsfeld, 2005; Australian Defence Act Sect 124, 2013). This is known to be of great additional benefit; as the psychology of “pain caused by the self” inspires an internal guilt, rather than providing an external focus that can be used to increase resistance in a subject (Reicher, Haslam and smith, 2012; CIA, 2012). This is also one of the arguments in support of psychological torture being superior to physical violence in order to encourage compliance in a torture context (CIA, 2012).

If such intentional applications of psychological method are being utilised in Australia, the ethical questions are real ones. The psychotraumatology seen in the military cluster of post traumatic event disorders (PTSD), in particular, contain dissociative and guilt components less common in other forms of PTSD (Sar, 2011; Miller, Resik & Keane, 2009). This would be consistent with what one with a knowledge of coercive manipulation psychology might expect (CIA, 2012).

The defence forces possess such knowledge. Thus, let it be argued, they must also carry a greater responsibility regarding duty of care towards the young, the less well off and less educated; one that goes beyond mere recruitment and psychologically enforced retention of targets.


To suffice it to say; between the automation of drone technology; the more commonplace use of mercenary soldiery in modern warfare and active intelligence contexts; and the 2013 USA guidelines to target youth in their mid to late 20’s, rather than 10yrs to teens, as in the ADF doctrine: the argument can be made that there are viable alternatives to maintaining a strong standing army that is deployment ready, without enacting abusive psychological recruitment tactics.

As such alternatives are available, the recruitment practices of Australia warrant immediate investigation for an ethical, as well as practical, evaluation that will inform recommendations for maintaining the best possible fighting ready force, with the least medical cost per recruit, looking forward to the ADF of 2050.

RQ1 – Do ADF advertisements show content in line with “adventure” rather than more realistic service ideals?

RQ2 – Are “Hero Myth” markers (self report video game/hero media exposure levels) higher in recruits and predictive of favourable military attitudes in non-recruits?

RQ3 – Do the demographic markers of youth, lower socio economic status, and lower education achievement predict proclivity towards positive regard for military service in Australia?

J.J.R. (2014 – Revised) . Reason to Believe. J chronicle in Lett & Sci. May. Ed (5)

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Rep.Auth.No.: A03-01-060513/0111A

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About J.Chron.Ltt.&Sci. [JRR]

~CogSc (Humour); NeuroPsych; Philosophy (Death/Identity); Methods (Research); Intelligence/Investigation (Forensic); Medical Error~
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