series of controversial films to be launched on the 23rd June by Veterans for Peace UK highlight the realities of armed service for young soldiers. The films parody iconic 80s Action Man toys and appear to be adverts for a new addition to the range called Action Man: Battlefield Casualties, but the ‘adverts’ are in fact a dark satire on the reality of life and death in and after the army.
The bleak but trenchant films showcase three new toys, PTSD Action Man (“with thousand-yard stare action”), Paralysed Action Man (“legs really don’t work”) and Dead Action Man (“coffin sold separately”). Veterans for Peace say the films are an attempt to draw attention to the way the British Army targets teenagers and even young children in its search for new recruits while ignoring and downplaying the often brutal repercussions of military service in their advertising.
The UK is one of fewer than twenty countries worldwide that still recruits sixteen year olds into its armed forces. Most countries only recruit adults aged eighteen and above. Soldiers who joined the British Army at a young age are substantially more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems. Younger recruits also have a higher risk of alcohol problems, depression and suicide than either their civilian counterparts or older military personnel. The Army has said that it looks to the youngest recruits to make up shortfalls in the infantry , which is by far the most dangerous part of the Army - the infantry's fatality rate in Afghanistan was seven times that in the rest of the armed forces
Veterans for Peace say the films are an attempt to show what, for many, are the real stories of military service. “Army recruitment adverts aren’t going to show a paralysed serviceman changing his colostomy bag or a veteran committing suicide in their own home,” says Daniel Campbell, an ex-Royal Engineer who joined the British Army at sixteen, “but these are some of the realities of military service. These films are an effort to show that in a hard-hitting, but honest way.”
Campbell, 27, who suffers PTSD from his time in Iraq and Afghanistan says the military’s treatment of soldiers with the condition borders on “callous indifference”, with veterans forced to rely on charities for support. “The Army still regard post-traumatic stress as a weakness rather than an injury. Soldiers are discouraged from getting a diagnosis or treatment while they’re in the forces, and once they leave they’re left to fend for themselves. The suicide rate for 16-20 year old males in the armed forces has been 82% higher than for civilians of the same age.“
The films, directed by Price James, were written and based on artwork by the artist Darren Cullen who says the idea was inspired by the UK military’s own line of toys, HM Armed Forces . “The British military’s official toy range claims to be suitable for ages five and up. I’m interested in why they think it’s appropriate for a child that age to play with a Predator Drone playset. It’s my belief that these toys are part of their long-term recruitment efforts.”
Cullen says that the films send a strong message that young people should think twice before believing military advertising, “The Army have this ability to take war, which is broadly described throughout history as being a living hell of suffering, pain and despair, and manage to rebrand it for each new generation as an exciting and character-building adventure.”
Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan says the films address the broader effect of pro-military advertising, “It is the policy of the British Army to focus its propaganda on children and teenagers. This is not just for recruitment purposes but also to build passive support among the population for the future wars our soldiers will fight in. These films reveal some of the negative outcomes of military service, they challenge the sanitised messages projected by militarists, the idea of the glamorous injury or the heroic death.”
An exhibition showing the films as well as the boxed Action Man toys and playsets featured will be on display at Red Gallery, 1-3 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3DT
from 23rd June - 2nd July. The films can also be viewed online from 23rd June at
Darren Cullen links