Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 12:25 GMT
Should the disabled be able to join the military?

Britain's most senior military officer has attacked proposals for disabled people to be allowed to join the armed forces.

The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie said that disabled people had no right to serve in the armed forces, adding that the idea showed a lack of awareness of military issues.

The general said that he welcomed women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities in the army, but "drew the line" at disabled people.

Is he right? Is it a job too far? Is there a place in the military for the disabled?

HAVE YOUR SAY Some jobs are surely possible during peace time. There may even be circumstances where disablement increases the suitability for a particular post. It is also a morale booster to accustom soldiers to possible disablement, and to show that disablement is not the end of the road. However, fighting strength may be compromised if for example, extra resources are required to support disabled staff during times of hardship. This idea should not be dismissed once and for all. There are definitely pros and cons that I can see.
Edwina TS, UK


Decisions on recruitment should be made by the experts and people who understand the realities of the job

Annie, Dubai/Br ex-pat
The job of a the army is to defend the country. Those who run the army have the responsibility of recruiting the right people for the job. Therefore decisions on recruitment should be made by the experts and people who understand the realities of the job. I do not think politicians are qualified to make judgements that could possibly undermine the effectiveness of the army.
I just hope that all the armchair critics and politically motivated politicians have the wisdom to accept advice from those who have real experience. Otherwise they could be putting the security of our country at risk and that thy have no mandate to do. This opinion does not in any way mean I am anti-disabled. I have nothing but the healthiest respect for them. I am not fit enough myself to join the army (and how many of us are?), but I don't feel undermined by that.
Annie, Dubai/Br ex-pat

We all cheered when Steve Redgrave won gold for the UK. His diabetes would disqualify him from the army. He is fitter and healthier than many serving members of the armed forces. Let us not confuse disability with inability
Iain B-S, Great Britain

Tony of the USA, FDR was president of the United States. The president holds the title of commander-in-chief, that does not make him a soldier. FDR did not carry a weapon, he did not land on a beach, he did not kill someone! He had the full force of the American government working for him. When I was in Vietnam many times I cried because I was wondering where was the full force of the American government that was going to save me and my buddies in some stinking jungle. If you people that have never served in a war zone suggest that someone in a wheelchair should serve active duty you are very uninformed.
Eddie, Houston,Texas


Many of my comrades have died for those very things

Rory, UK
I really think that this discussion has gone too far. As a serving member of the Armed Forces for over 23 years, I have seen "combat" in the Falklands, Bosnia and Kosovo. I have completed several operational tours including Ireland, Cyprus, Somalia and Rwanda. I have every respect for disabled people and sympathise with their situation, however General Guthrie is quite correct when he says that we don't have "non-combatants" in the Armed Forces. We have one of the most professional forces in NATO, and in order to maintain that professionalism we need to produce highly trained, highly motivated people who are ready and willing to fight for - and sometimes die for freedom, democracy, decency, our loved ones etc. These are not hollow sentiments. Many of my comrades have died for those very things. To preserve your "way of life".

At the present time, when the services are medically discharging serving men and women for injuries sustained whilst on duty; how can we then employ disabled personnel within an organisation they do not know, or understand. Only fellow military personnel know how unique the environment really is. I do not wish to appear dispassionate, however this "discussion" is futile and should never have come to light.
Rory, UK


I remember that a good few of the civilian staff at my base were disabled in some way

Guy Cooper, Canada (ex-UK)
I was in nuclear subs for 10 years and, whilst I respect the contribution that can be made by many disabled people, I think that common sense has to prevail. There are many jobs within MOD/ UK that disabled people could fulfil. In fact I remember that a good few of the civilian staff at my base were disabled in some way. The fact is the front line is where you need able-bodied and super fit people who can withstand severe hardship when required. I am sure that many disabled people would love the chance to fight alongside their able-bodied counterparts but there has to be a line drawn somewhere.
Guy Cooper, Canada (ex-UK)

I have always wanted to be a part of the armed forces and joined the TA's when I was able to. Now I am disabled but I still feel I have a lot to offer the Armed Services. I cannot be part of the ARMED forces but I can offer my mental capabilities in the field of computing, working in the background, freeing up a valuable pair of hands, doing the so-called boring office work which most people would refuse to do.
Andrew Cronin, UK

As a soldier who has recently left the Army, I think that disabled people have no right or place to be in the military. Every soldier regardless of how 'active' his job must undergo rigorous infantry training before learning his trade skills. Disabled people would clearly be unable to complete this training and would end up being a liability to units. A soldier's lot can be a high stress environment in which each one relies on others around him - there is no place for a 'weak link' in the chain. If disabled people want to serve their country they should join the MOD Civil Service. That way, they will be serving their country and be able to work in a military unit without affecting its operational effectiveness.
T. D. Allen, London, UK

Is not the face of modern warfare changing. No longer do we send hoards of soldiers "over the top". Modern warfare with all its computers and technology is just as suitable to the abled as it is to the disabled. As long as they have a finger that can push the "launch missile" button they'll be more than qualified.
Neil, UK


The question is what is meant by disabled?

W Richmond-Pickering, Esq, UK
The question is what is meant by disabled? If it is utterly physical such as blindness or deafness then is the cost of adapting the system requirements possible, seeing that the forces are so underfunded, worth it? In the case of mentally disturbed, I maintain that some versions of this (and I have known cases who have found it to their advantage) should be allowed to serve as they do a good job.
W Richmond-Pickering, Esq, UK

At first I thought this question was a joke, but when I had time to think about it, I realised that it makes sense to use people with certain disabilities in clerical positions, therefore freeing other more able bodied military personnel to participate in active duty.
Kaye, Canada

Every "desk job" builds upon experience gained in a field job. Can a disabled person attend and graduate from the rigorous Combined Arms Schools and Speciality Schools, serve as a platoon leader in garrison and the field, deploy on a moment's notice, serve in unaccompanied, medically remote billets in the world's least desirable environments, and not endanger himself or others?
Adrienne, American in Germany

If disabled people are qualified and are able to handle the job at hand, why deprive them of a chance to serve for Queen and country. Not only this would help raise the level of confidence among disabled people in general, this will also help in removing the public stigma that attaches to these unfortunate souls that they are incapable and useless.
Steven Mun, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Would it not be prudent to release soldiers tied to a desk or with administrative duties for more combatant roles?

Adrian, England
The army at the moment is experiencing serious shortfalls in recruitment. Would it not be prudent to release soldiers tied to a desk or with administrative, rear echelon duties, for more combatant roles? Many blind people have better sound perception than those able to hear. Perhaps intelligence work, gathering information from computers or other sources would welcome this attribute.
Adrian, England

Anyone joining the military knows that they must be prepared to fight and kill an enemy on a personal level. This is an exhausting physical and mental challenge. The military sets up appropriate medical examinations to ensure that all applicants are able to do the job. If you pass, you are in - if not you are out. Simple.
Brian, Derbyshire, England


Disabled people contribute to our society, the military is no exception

Chris Thompson, UK
In the majority of the arguments presented so far, the word disability is associated with someone apart from 'normal' society. I would argue that the military already employs people who are disabled by the bigoted intolerance of any social or cultural difference. Disabled people contribute to our society, the military is no exception. The same argument was used to keep women out of the military, as the common sense view held that it was no place for them. Common sense uses ideology to create a stereotypical view of the world, not an absolute one. For example the image which introduces this forum uses a sterotypical image of a disabled person. The BBC could have used an image of a 'normal' male standing beside the soldier who was deaf. Get my point, you wouldn't know who was deaf!
Chris Thompson, UK

One assumes that the "disabled" soldier would have to be paid at the same rate as an "able" soldier. But would not be expected to serve on the frontline where you can get shot at, shelled, gassed and all the other goodies. Bit discriminatory that, init! I await the wheelchair ramps being fitted to my tank.
Gary, Great Britain

I spent 14 years in the Royal Navy, doing a variety of different jobs. One, instructing, I could just about have done from a wheel-chair, the rest required full fitness. Reading these comments brings home the fact that few people now have had any connection with the armed forces. Not surprising, therefore, that they have little knowledge of what the military life entails.
Peter, England


The soldier of the future may have an entirely different battlefield, where physical disability will be a non-issue

Adam Nayyar, Pakistan/USA
The soldier of the future may have an entirely different battlefield, where physical disability will be a non-issue. Lizz is right: if the physical disability does not at all affect the specific task assigned, then recruit the person.
Adam Nayyar, Pakistan/USA

I cannot see any harm in the disabled being allowed into the armed forces as long as it was in a non combatant role. But what does disabled actually mean? There are obvious cases such as those in wheelchairs, or the blind, but what about asthmatics? Surely it would be quite all right for people with such minor and easily controlled disabilities to have a role in the armed forces. Therefore each case should judged upon its own merits.
Andy Taylor, UK


Before even thinking about admitting disabled persons to the military, Britain needs to accommodate these people in society

Amanda Bradley, Washington, USA
Before even thinking about admitting disabled persons to the military, Britain needs to accommodate these people in society. I am absolutely appalled every time I come to England at how desperately lacking your facilities for disabled people are. Until laws are created to force establishments to accommodate the disabled, all other discussions are moot.
Amanda Bradley, Washington, USA

Individual Members of the Armed Forces should mirror the society they are sworn to protect and defend. They include ethnic minorities, non-residents, gays, women and people with disabilities. Just remember that President Delano Roosevelt, an American with a disability (Polio), was Commander-in-Chief of the US Military during World War II. The disability did not prevent him from making critical decisions at Yalta often flying within the theatre of war.
Tony, USA


National security must come first

Rob Anderson, UK
The fact is that the UK needs a military that is easily mobilised and open to a variety of tasks. Whilst disabled people might be able to do a specific job, in the fluid situation of a military operation; the last thing a commander needs is wondering whether that particular person has a disability and is not able to carry out a duty which is out of the ordinary. This is why the military have a Battle Fitness Test, which the plumpest pastry cook to the most senior General must pass. If you are in the military you must be able to fight without hindrance. Whilst disabled people have a lot to offer in other areas of civilian life, national security must come first. I hope that General Sir Charles Guthrie's comments are heeded and that we do not succumb to the need for correctness, and rely on common sense.
Rob Anderson, UK

My son was devastated when he was turned down for the Army and Royal Air Force because he has a hearing problem. He was told, quite rightly, that under pressure it was possible that he might not hear a command/order. If this was a good enough reason to turn down an otherwise very fit young man then how on earth can a "disabled" person expect to be admitted. PC and the so called equality campaigners are simply taking their cause many steps too far. Utter rubbish. At this rate this country will be a bigger laughing stock to the rest of the world than it already is, and that's not difficult.
Jane, UK

The purpose of disability legislation is to assure civil rights protections to qualified people with disabilities. I stress the word QUALIFIED. It should be up to the military to determine what the standard means. To not do this will create absurd scenarios in which the military could reject a person who they considerto be a "weak" candidate, but is forced to consider a person who is legally disabled. I think there has been too much discussion based on sweeping generalisations. What kinds of disabilities are we talking about? What kinds of positions? I think that if we were to talk a little more in specifics, both sides of the debate would soften their positions a little.
Michael, USA

It is all very well saying that in a modern armed forces, such as the UK's, there are plenty of desk jobs and back room jobs available to people with disabilities, but these people often make key decisions, drawing from their experiences of soldiering earlier in the life. To fill desk jobs with people without the experience with hugely reduce to armed forces ability to operate to the high standards it does today.
Ed, UK

A lot of the comments made on this website show a profound ignorance of what disability means and the contribution made to society by the disabled. Whilst accepting that certain disabilities would prohibit an individual from certain tasks I do believe that to simply bar the disabled in total is discriminatory and depicts an uncaring and ignorant society.
CS, UK

The keywords used in this debate, "disabled", "banned", "not suitable", will always cause controversy. However the fact remains that to serve in the armed forces you have to meet a set standard, whether physical or mental. This is imperative as the role has a huge element of risk, not only to the individual but also to his/her peers.
Ravinder, UK

Absolutely not! I'm an expat, ex-RAF man and as much as I sympathise with those who are disabled, the armed forces is simply not the place for them. Service life requires mobility, working unsociable hours and the sharing of sometimes tiring and unpleasant duties. This is why of course, that the upper age limit (for the most part) was set at 55. In addition, in the event of a national crisis, every one has to be capable of bearing arms. Whilst superficially the idea might seem a charitable one, it would prove to be a serious handicap to everyone else. Ironically, I recently read that the recruit drop-out rate (for all sorts of reasons) has become worse and the MoD are most concerned.
John Timms, Switzerland


Start seeing the ability before the disability

Alex, England
As someone who works with disabled children and young people it never cease to amaze me how many people see the disability first and the person second. It is society that disable people and not the other way round. The children and young people I work with have the same aspirations and goals as any other person and if joining the Army is one of them then old-fashioned attitudes about "them" etc. must change. Start seeing the ability before the disability.
Alex, England

Surely the only relevant question is "Can this person perform the duties required, to a high enough standard?" If they can't, for whatever reason, then no they should not be accepted. If they can, then it's irrelevant whether they are male or female, young or old, gay or straight, disabled or not. Why do we insist on trying to exclude entire groups from society just because they don't match our ideal of what a human should be?
Andrew Smith, US - ex UK

A bit of common sense would seem useful. The armed forces have a lot of non-military roles that could easily be done by people not able to undertake combat duties. Also on another note the SAS keep on all their disabled soldiers and find roles for them. They see it as good for moral and as a way of keeping experience within the unit and thus to benefit of others.
Gordon, England

Am I missing the point? Has anyone actually suggested placing "disabled" people in a combat zone? Surely there must be a measure of common sense applied to the whole issue, for instance there must surely be vacancies in the logistical 'tail' particularly on the "home-front" where people who have some form of disability could perform in precisely the same position as an able bodied person. If a person is willing to serve their country, surely that patriotism should be respected and not rejected out of hand.
E Drennan, Scotland

In response to 'Carlos' from USA. War is not conducted from behind a PC screen. British and American infantry attacked on foot with shoulder arms and bayonets as recently as the Gulf conflict. I think it ridiculous to allow disabled people to serve in the forces as every recruit is expected to be able to fight if needed, ever heard the expression 'Ready, willing and able'? This really is political correctness gone barmy and I fully support the Defence Staff on their comments.
Matt, UK


This whole issue is getting silly

S. Fox, UK
This whole issue is getting silly. Members of the armed forces, even non combat troops, can find themselves in a war zone with no alternative but to fight. Surely no right-minded person could expect disabled people to find themselves in that situation?
S. Fox, UK

The armed forces should have the right to make the final decision as to what criteria they use to determine who joins; providing the efficiency of the fighting forces is the prime consideration. There is really no room for square pegs when the life of everyone is on the line. Fighting wars is, at times, a desperate and bloody business where the survival of each depends on the ability, skill and courage of the other.
John Brownlee, England

I was invalided out of the Army six years ago and I would be of no use there now due to my disability. The training alone is both very physically and mentally demanding and I'm afraid that, personally, if I decided to fight to join up, I would be nothing but a liability.
S. Dolby, UK

Douglas Bader and Nelson were both injured carrying out their duties and were senior enough to have an ongoing use, although I seem to remember Bader met with extreme resistance when he wanted to fly again, despite the RAF being desperate for pilots. I agree with General Guthrie when he says that the ethos of service and duty is not well understood and we should let the experts get on with it. It is a hard enough job as it is.
Jamie, UK


They should be allowed in civilian support roles

Graeme, England
They should be allowed in civilian support roles, but not in a uniformed role. All men and women in uniform go through the same basic training no matter what their future military role is. You cannot have people in the armed services who are not capable of completing the same basic training as everyone else, otherwise no-one could be rejected.
Graeme, England

I am in the USAF stationed in Oxon. Everyone, from an administrative person to a fighter pilot, needs to be ready to fight in battle at any given moment. Maybe I am slightly biased being in the military, but I don't understand why this is even being considered. We are not being discriminatory. We are simply maintaining the most physically capable personnel we can.
Michael, RAF Croughton, UK

If special jobs can be found for disabled people in the military then shouldn't they also allow people to join up to age 65? After all, there must be desk jobs that older people can perform.
Gill, UK

There are so many able-bodied people who are not up to the physical demands of the armed forces that I cannot see how our over-stretched forces could possibly cater for the disabled. The MOD does not discriminate against the disabled but the armed forces must, for the sake of security. As far as I know it is a basic requirement for all the Armed Forces personnel to be able to go into combat. Could a disabled person do this without putting lives at risk?
Sarah, UK

Having recently left the forces after 22 years I have found the quality of today's soldier to be very poor and to dilute whatever quality there remains with the recruitment of disabled personnel would be the final nail in the coffin of this country's armed forces. God help us if we have to go to war in the near future.
James Robinson, England


I cannot imagine the Armed Forces would compromise the high standards of fitness

Roy, England
The military by definition is a fighting force and as such I cannot see how we can justify employing disabled in that role. All recruits are expected to complete basic training whatever their future role may be. I cannot imagine the Armed Forces would compromise the high standards of fitness they require by adapting their assault courses etc for disabled people to compete. I agree that there is a place for disabled people to make a valuable contribution to society but the Armed Forces is not one of those places.
Roy, England

You have to be very ignorant to make such statement. I have a friend with "disabilities" who has worked in the U.S. military for 10 years at least. In a world where the military kill using computer technology, I don't see how people with "disabilities" can be excluded. My question is why should they be willing to serve in the military.
Carlos, USA

The point is that there are disabled people in the armed forces doing tasks commensurate with their skills. These are people who have been injured on active duty. If there are jobs that these can do why then impose a blanket ban on disabled people. Nobody is suggesting that they should be ready for the front line, but many of the puffed-up generals probably aren't ready either.
Laurence Ward, England

I think that General Sir Charles Guthrie, while not coming across as politically correct in this day and age, is right on the mark! There are plenty of civilian jobs in the Armed Forces that could benefit from the talents and skills of disabled workers.
Andrew Collingwood, Kosovo


What about the important decision making behind active duty?

Rebecca Southwell, UK
If I'm not mistaken the Army in particular spent considerable money on an advertising/recruitment campaign testing the nation's aptitude for the forces. Suitable and transferable qualities included logical and lateral thinking, the ability to prioritise, sound decision making and a calm disposition in the face of danger among other practical skills. I didn't realise that these characteristics were confined only to the able bodied? No-one is denying that disabled personnel in the forces will not be able to carry out active service but what about the important decision making behind active duty?
Rebecca Southwell, UK

So they're going to let blind people fly planes? How cool is that?
Ben, France, Paris (British)

Disabled people should and I believe are allowed to work for the Army. However actually admitting them into the Forces is a completely different story. Logistically it would be a nightmare and impracticable in a fast moving combat situation. Also where would the money for extra costs come from?
Gary, England

If a war breaks out and it's a disabled person that saves my life, I really am not going to care either way. I have nothing against the disabled in the army as long as the person in question is fit for the job. What else could be meant by this suggestion?
Tom, England


Each individual post should be assessed as to what the minimum physical or intellectual standards are necessary to do the job

Keith Lomax, UK
This is clearly wrong. Each individual post should be assessed as to what the minimum physical or intellectual standards are necessary to do the job. Recruitment can then go ahead to allow limited numbers of disabled people to apply for appropriate jobs. There must not be quotas applied, otherwise able-bodied people who apply to move into those positions would be blocked because 'this is a disabled position'. Mobility of staff between jobs is a key feature of the military.
Keith Lomax, UK

As much as we must ensure that the disabled have all of the rights of a citizen, I do think that it would be detrimental to the forces to employ disabled people. Today's forces are much smaller than they were a few years ago, and there are no 'hiding places' for those that cannot carry out the full range of duties.
Andy, UK

Every member of a professional army needs to be able to fight in battle, at the very least every member will have to go on operational tours. The army is stretched enough without having to specifically cater for disabled people in an operational environment. We have to remember that the army is there to protect our society and the more PC it becomes the greater difficulty it has in fulfilling that capacity.
James, UK


At the end of the day a person in the military is a solider first then a trade second

Colin Jones, UK
A difficult subject, I don't think the disabled should be allowed any active role in the military, perhaps an admin role within the military but nothing else. Equal rights is going to far. Some jobs require a certain type of person. At the end of the day a person in the military is a solider first then a trade second. A person who is disabled would not match this requirement.
Colin Jones, UK

Do the Navy and RAF share the General's views
They number amongst their heroes the limbless Douglas Bader and limbless and partially sighted Lord Nelson!
Ed Carter, England

Has the world gone mad? Of course disabled people can't join the army. Combat demands physical perfection and in a dangerous situation, having to make special concessions for the sake of political correctness will endanger lives and affect the performance.
MB, UK


Surely it depends on the exact nature of the disability?

Pete B, UK
Surely it depends on the exact nature of the disability? We shouldn't have any barriers stopping people who can perform a role just because they carry a particular label.
Pete B, UK

Of course "disabled" people have no place in the military. Military effectiveness cannot be undermined by the requirements of the PC liberal elite. What next - blind pilots?
Andy Wegg, UK


The armed forces are there to perform very specific tasks, most often under very physical conditions

James, UK
If they can pass all the fitness requirements and perform all the tasks as well as able bodied applicants to the armed forces without lowering the standards to allow this then yes they should be allowed to join the armed forces.
This is do-good attitiude is going one step too far. The armed forces are there to perform very specific tasks, most often under very physical conditions. It seems we are no longer allowed to say it without being branded a bigot/racist/sexist/ageist etc but there are differences between people and some people are unable to perform certain tasks. The sooner we get that through to people the sooner we can actually move forward and find real equality of opportunity.
James, UK

Thankfully, it is now easier for the disabled to work in many areas in which they are at no material disadvantage to anyone else. This is so obviously not true in the case of professional soldiering, I'm astonished the suggestion is taken seriously by anyone.
Ben Broadbent, England

Surely it is simply a case of whether they can do the job or not? I see no good reason why there should be a blanket ban on people with disabilities. If their disability does not prevent them from doing a good job, then they should be allowed to work there, just like anyone else.
Lizz, UK

Send us your comments:
Name:

Your E-mail Address:


Country:

Comments:

Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Links to more Talking Point stories