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Who Is to Blame for Violent Ex-Servicemen?

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So, ex-servicemen are more likely to be involved in acts of violence than people who haven't been in the forces.

And cue statements about soldiers being trained to kill and forced to undertake repeated tours away and become desensitised to violence. Blah, blah, blah.

But the headline that is grabbed by the news agencies and media masks the reality of the situation. This story is about young men (and yes, it is mostly men) who leave the forces early, rather than those who have undertaken multiple tours and spent a decent amount of time in the services.

It's about those young men who already have a propensity for violence and who can't handle the discipline of the army. It's about how they are discharged and then booted out into society.

The army needs people who are ready to carry out violent acts. Obviously. There is no point having members of the armed forces that wouldn't be happy having to fight. Indeed, it's all about getting into 'a scrap' with the enemy. You need to have people who are going to be ready to go into battle and be aggressive and if necessary end up fighting directly with other people, sometimes hand-to-hand.

But this is a controlled aggression. It's directed towards the enemy. It's focused and disciplined aggression and violence, only carried out when necessary and when sanctioned.

The army needs people who are controlled, disciplined and focussed. And 95% of the time, it gets them. It recruits them, trains them and develops them from young men and women with potential into those disciplined members of the services that eventually go on to have the skills that future employers want.

But occasionally, it gets it wrong. The forces recruit someone who doesn't fit. He has the aggression that is often needed, but is not able to accept the discipline that comes with it. And these are the ones that this report is talking about. They don't fit into the service way of life and leave early; either by their choice, but more often by the choice of the army itself.

And these young men then leave the army, with the swagger and confidence they learnt in the service, but without the disciple to go with it. They have the aggression, but not the control.

But who is to blame for this? Is it the problem of the forces themselves, the individuals, or society in general. It's easy to blame the forces for not supporting them, but it's not JUST the forces fault. It's not just the individual's fault. It's not just society's fault.

It is as ever a mix of all three. The individuals need to learn to exercise the control, but society needs to learn to accept them and both society and the forces need to learn to support them more.

The way that people leaving the forces are treated is wrong. In the US, ex-forces still have access to forces facilities and amenities - they have access to bases even after they have left the services. But here, once you hand your ID card in, that's it. You are out. Outside the wire, outside the community, outside the support. Forces charities do their best, but they can't do everything.

Why do the forces just drop people then? Why is it once you are out, you are out, as though you were never in? It's wrong, it's sad, and it's the reason that the forces doesn't support the service leavers. Once you leave, the fence around your old base is higher, wider, bigger. The gate locked in your face and you are just the same as the civvy who has never been in.

And for some, who joined looking to be accepted, to be forced to leave because they don't fit in, this locking out is even worse. They become full of rage, anger and frustration and have no direction in which to resolve those feelings, and if they have no way expressing these emotions... it is even worse.

Add to that the culture in society of bravado, posturing and ultimately drinking... it is no surprise that the only release these young men have is through violence.

And it's sad, and it's wrong, but unless there is a massive change to the way that the forces discharges people, and supports them during and after that, and there is a change in the culture of our society that allows it to continue, it won't be a surprise to many that the proportion of young men involved in violent acts who are from a military background is as high as it is.