Ben Quinn, “MoD study sets out how to sell wars to the public,” The Guardian, 26 September 2013
The armed forces should seek to make British involvement in future wars more palatable to the public by reducing the public profile of repatriation ceremonies for casualties, according to a Ministry of Defence unit that formulates strategy.
Other suggestions made by the MoD thinktank in a discussion paper examining how to assuage “casualty averse” public opinion include the greater use of mercenaries and unmanned vehicles, as well as the SAS and other special forces, because it says losses sustained by the elite soldiers do not have the same impact on the public and press.
The document, written in November 2012 and obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act, discusses how public reaction to casualties can be influenced and recommends that the armed forces should have “a clear and constant information campaign in order to influence the major areas of press and public opinion”.
It says that to support such a campaign the MoD should consider a number of steps, one of which would be to “reduce the profile of the repatriation ceremonies” – an apparent reference to the processions of hearses carrying coffins draped in the union flag that were driven through towns near RAF bases where bodies were brought back. …
The report adds: “The public have become better informed and our opponents more sophisticated in the exploitation of the sources of information with the net result that convincing the nation of the need to run military risks has become more difficult but no less essential.”
Among other suggestions that could contend with worries about casualty numbers, the DCDC recommends a major investment in “autonomous systems for unmanned vehicles”, cyber-operations and the increased use of mercenaries, referred to as “contractors”.
Noting that the growth of private security companies has proceeded at a spectacular rate during the past 10 years, it adds: “Neither the media nor the public in the west appear to identify with contractors in the way that they do with their military personnel. Thus casualties from within the contractorised force are more acceptable in pursuit of military ends than those from among our own forces.”
Investing in greater numbers of special forces is also recommended. The paper suggests: “The public appear to have a more robust attitude to SF [special forces] losses.” In a reference to a May 1982 helicopter crash, it says: “The loss of 19 SAS soldiers in a single aircraft accident during the Falklands campaign did not arouse any significant comment.” …
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