Is the army up to it? Can it defend these islands, West Germany or Third World allies under attack? The authors – ex-officers, now journalists – argue that, detached as it is from society, the army has a paper strength at odds with reality and it has acquired devastatingly bad habits, including a failure to think out what it is doing.
These habits include bullying, careerism and persistently heavy drinking and competitive alcoholism in the officers’ mess. Many of these abuses, they say, are due to the army’s transition from a feudal hierarchy run by ‘officers and gentlemen’, to a careerist company on a multinational model, leaving it without an efficient value system. If we can’t go backwards, the authors argue, we can move on and make it a popular, democratic unit on Swiss or Swedish lines, animating a nation’s ideals. It should be a force that learns from its parallels abroad.
The big problem is that the army, with only 50,000 troops to pose at an invader when reinforcing NATO in a crisis, faces demographic disaster in the 1990s: there won’t be nearly enough 18–21 year olds. These messages emerge very potently. Teenagers, the book suggests, should do optional national service