The risk of violent offending and heavy drinking rises after joining the army, according to a report released today.

Dan joined the army in 2006, at 18, having grown up in an area of high unemployment. He was told that military discipline would keep him out of trouble. After training he deployed to Iraq, and when he came home he assaulted a warrant officer. He was sentenced to 18 months in military prison.

‘The army’s training changed me,’ Dan said, ‘it made me more aggressive as a person. I shouldn’t have attacked that warrant officer, but I believe I wouldn’t have if that training hadn’t changed me in the first place. After the conviction the army wouldn’t support me, my mental health deteriorated and I was left feeling isolated and alone. I resorted to alcohol abuse and became homeless for a year, and I have suffered with chronic PTSD. I really believe that underlying all my problems was the effect of the training I was put through when I joined the army.’

‘I hear stories like Dan’s all the time,’ said Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier and the National Coordinator of VFP UK. ‘The report we are publishing today confirms that army training increases violent behaviour and heavy drinking even before recruits are sent to war, contradicting the common assumption that joining the army reduces antisocial behaviour.’ He went on, ‘We want to increase the public understanding of the impact military service, so that people can make better informed decisions.’

The First Ambush? Effects of army training and employment (70pp) draws on veterans’ testimony and around 200 studies, mainly from the UK and US, to explore the effects of army employment on recruits, particularly during initial training.

The training process has a forceful impact on attitudes, health, and behaviour even before soldiers are sent to war. The findings show that military training and culture combine with pre-existing issues (such as a childhood history of anti-social behaviour) to increase the risk of violence and alcohol misuse (details below). Traumatic war experiences further exacerbate the problem.

Key data:

Research in the UK and US has found that:

Most military personnel and veterans are not habitually violent, but are more likely than civilians to behave violently in daily life.[1]

They are also twice as likely to drink heavily, which is a risk factor for violent behaviour.[2]

These problems are greater in the army than the navy or air force.[3]

Army training reinforces several risk factors for violent behaviour, including antagonism, aggression, hostility to other groups, and traditionally masculine norms.[4]

The prevalence of violent offending increases after joining the armed forces, and increases again after personnel return from war (reaching double the pre-enlistment rate, according to a British study).[5]

Pre-military factors, such as a background of anti-social behaviour, combine with military factors, such as being trained for combat and experiencing traumatic events in war, to drive up the risk of violent behaviour.[6]

Violence and heavy drinking by veterans are serious public health problems, says the report. A British study in 2012 found that 13% of British personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan admitted behaving violently in the weeks following their return.[7] Applied to all personnel deployed to Afghanistan alone over the course of the war, this proportion is equivalent to 17,500 individuals.

Other consequences of army employment include elevated rates of mental health problems and unemployment after discharge, as well as poorer general health in later life, according to the report.

Veterans For Peace UK, is a voluntary, open and democratic ex-services organisation of men and women. Together we have fought in every war that Britain has fought since WW2. As a result of our collective experience we say that “War is not the solution to the problems we face in the 21st century”. Our fundamental purpose is to serve the cause of world peace.

Report author, David Gee, is a researcher with a critical interest in military recruitment practice, military employment, and the mental health of veterans. The report is a companion to The Last Ambush? Aspects of mental health in the British armed forces (2013).

[1] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Jones, M., et al. (2013). ‘Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: a data linkage cohort study’. The Lancet, 381, pp. 907–917; Marshall, A. D., Panuzio, J., & Taft, C. T. (2005). ‘Intimate partner violence among military veterans and active duty servicemen’. Clinical Psychology Review, 25, 862-876.
[2] Head, M., Goodwin, L., Debell, F., Greenberg, N., Wessely, S., & Fear, N. T. (2016). ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol misuse: comorbidity in UK military personnel’. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(8), pp. 1171-1180; Mattiko, M. J., Olstead, K. L., Brown, J. M., & Bray, R. M. (2011, June). ‘Alcohol use and negative consequences among active duty military personnel’. Addictive Behaviors, 36(6), pp. 608-614; McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T., et al. (2009). ‘Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: Results of a household survey’. University of Leicester, The NHS Information Centre.
[3] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Jones, M., et al. (2013). ‘Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: a data linkage cohort study’. The Lancet, 381, pp. 907–917; Marshall, A. D., Panuzio, J., & Taft, C. T. (2005). ‘Intimate partner violence among military veterans and active duty servicemen’. Clinical Psychology Review, 25, 862-876.
[4] See The First Ambush report, pp. 41-42, for detail and sources.
[5] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Jones, M. et al. (2013). ‘Violent offending by UK military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: a data linkage cohort study’. The Lancet, 381, pp. 907–917; Bouffard, L. A. (2005). ‘The military as a bridging environment in criminal careers: The differential outcomes of the military experience’. Armed Forces & Society, 31(2), 273-296.
[6] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Iversen, A. C., et al. (2011). ‘Impact of pre-enlistment antisocial behaviour on behavioural outcomes among UK military personnel’. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 47(8), 1353-1358; Elbogen, E. B., Johnson, S., Wagner, R., et al. (2014). ‘Violent behaviour and post-traumatic stress disorder in US Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’. British Journal of Psychiatry, 204, 368-375; MacManus, D., Rona, R., et al. (2015). Aggressive and violent behavior among military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan: Prevalence and link with deployment and combat exposure’. Epidemiologic Reviews, 37, 196-212
[7] MacManus, D., Dean, K., Al Bakir, M., et al. (2012). ‘Violent behaviour in UK military personnel returning home after deployment’. Psychological Medicine, 42, pp. 1663–1673.


  1. Kathy says:

    Thanks for this report! The situation is similar in the states- bad outcomes for enlistees, and the younger the enlistee, the worse the effect. Schools are complicit in this, not only glamorizing war in history and promoting strange definitions of manhood and nobility through battle, but they allow recruiters into the schools to lure the most susceptible kids. Military recruiters don’t belong in schools.

  2. Garry H says:

    Lastly, there are many people in all 3 branches that are really nasty people hiding behind their rank and the power that rank over others. I have seen this myself and also been subjected to it both upon entry at 17 and later on in my career as a Cpl. Some people deserve what they get in my view, irrespective of the rank they hold, Rank is not about power over others, its about influencing others. Further, its about mentoring people, guiding, nurturing, protecting, teaching, learning, leading by example, being a role model, listening, emphasizing, befriending and so much more than chevrons or pips. Some people will find that out the hard way when they leave the unreal word of the military behind them and join the very real, harsher civvie street.

  3. Garry H says:

    As a former member of the RAF, I agree with the premise that Army personnel are indeed more susceptible to this form of conditioning due to the very nature of what a soldier, particularly an infantry soldier is expected to do, kill people. RAF (accept RAF Regiment personnel) and RN personnel are trained in basic Force Protection that covers basic weapons handling and the core elements of protection an air base or ship including NBC conditions. Yes, there are problem people in all 3 branches of service, but I can fully understand how infantry soldiers are highly vulnerable. Soldiers, including SF troops, are all too human after all. I left my home town of Skuthorpe in 1987 to join the military for the same reasons most enlisted men and women join the military today (especially in the USA where I now live), economic hardship, even family issues. In this modern era, however, warfare has been experienced on a level the average solider would not have been exposed to previously unless you were an SF operator. Indeed, the Falklands or the streets of NI were the about as bad. as it could get. Dan, I wish you well mate, and hope you are back on your feet! Garry H, USA

  4. Lets look at the pre-programming which is aiding the slate clear minds of our youngster towards a mind set of ridicule and violence, even right in our homes today.
    At a tender age these young minds are subject to many sorts of propaganda and soft violence in the many cartoons and child’s TV programming taking place, such avenues should carry a health warning.
    My own children were witness to such violence on a grand scale with shows like Itchy and Scratchy, Tom and Jerry, The Whacky Races and so on; today we have very cleverly developed cartoons like Peppa Pig who uses the degredation of silly daddy within the household. Then there are the many violent video games of war that are, wheather we like to admit it or not doing the same, the game has been lifted and further pre-programming their devloping minds in such a way that when they are called to action, the memories of such cold play never leave them, and killing will become second nature.

  5. ANNZALA PITT says:

    This soldier had a toxic command that mistreated him and trashed him.

  6. Will Thomas says:

    This is a terrific article — one that exposes the negative consequences of militarism which is a true evil.

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