“Soldiers should earn footballers wages”. Yes, and I should be having it off with Mila Kunis whenever I fancy. Alas, I’ve heard she’s taken. But allow me to get back on track...
Witnessing people exasperate over the injustices of the respective salaries of professional footballers and professional soldiers is essentially as fruitless as Findus lasagne is beef-less. Saying it makes you look good, but is it going to change anything? In short, no. But have the champions of this pointless campaign actually thought about the ramifications?
Now don’t get me wrong; this is by no means some form of anti-establishment dig at the armed forces. As a student of war, I am no stranger to the horrors these men and women face and this article is by no means an attempt to belittle what they do. Simply, certain reasons point to certain naiveties regarding this issue.
Disclaimer out of the way, let us consider the true nature of the beast. In the Barclays Premier League, five and six-figure weekly salaries are commonplace. But as footballers more than often demonstrate: money corrupts. When we hark back to the days before football became about oil and arabic royal families, we reminisce fondly about the proper blokes that used to grace our screens. The ’66 World Cup winners are never questioned or scrutinized in the same way that modern footballers are. Huge salaries have metamorphosized the beast into a generation of nightclub brawling, adulterous prima donnas; sometimes worse.
The Championship, also no stranger to high wages, has provided a convenient case study. Brighton and Hove Albion players, George Barker (21), Lewis Dunk (21), and Anton Rodgers (19), for instance, currently face charges of sexual assault and voyeurism. Crimes I believe can be pinned down to an unwavering sense of superiority their status as footballers has fostered in their tiny minds. A combination of newly-found wealth and fame was a toxic combination for their moral character.
Now I love football as much as the next guy but lets consider the generalisations. It’s a game played by guys with more air between their ears than a playground air-floater. If we apply a similar filter to those that enlist in the armed forces, you see that many choose to join the army because they are poor academically or need the discipline the army provides. What if these guys not too dissimilar from the crop that are blessed with footballing ability saw their moral compass completely skewed by money?
Footballers’ antics are simply tabloid-fodder and relatively danger-proof to most others. Yet their morally corrosive salaries would have calamitous effects for any members of a military force. Within a modern war-zone any manifestation of a loss in discipline is political ammunition to the enemy. If a any troops went on trial for sexual assault and voyeurism, it wouldn’t escape the journalists and would provide jihadist campaigners with a rallying cry for new recruits. Winning the hearts and minds of the local populace would be incredibly difficult if soldiers began acting on impulse, operating with a god-complex brought on by a sudden increase in wages.
Although low, our soldiers’ modest salaries discourage the type of petulant and reckless behaviour exhibited by the superstars. Armies have their fair share of cowboys mind. Think Abu Ghraib, think the murder of 16 Afghan citizens by a rogue U.S. soldier. These morally repugnant incidents, with their potential to undermine the entire war-effort are without the devilish influence of six figures. Within the status quo uniformity is stressed; increased salaries would unravel the very pillars of hierarchical military service. Footballers’ wages are the last thing the military needs; prima-donnas armed with automated weapons would have the Taliban rubbing their hands with glee. It is vital that soldiers are able to fit their egos in their helmets.
Say a soldier receives a players-style contract. Typically there would be a goal bonus incentive. What would be the soldier equivalent? Kill quotas. Quotas are a bad idea at the best of times, in fact kill quotas are a positively nuclear idea. The kind of nuclear bomb that you arm by hand, and then seem surprised that it blew up in your face. Not only do they completely conflict with everything counterinsurgency teaches, i.e. the prevalence of minimum force and rules of engagement, they have so much scope for escalation and error. Heed the lesson of Vietnam’s Phoenix Program. The intelligence collation program, following the introduction of quota, devolved into an assassination campaign. Due to quota pressures, research got sloppy and many innocents fell victim to South Vietnamese death squads. Although defeating political subversion in rural Vietnam, we all know how America’s political war in Vietnam went. Are we all starting to see how many worlds apart balls and bullets are?
On a more practical level, why would a soldier return for a second tour? Within six months they’ve already made enough money to never need to go back; they’ve solved the financial or employment problems that forced them to enlist in the first place. After their first tour most would bid that war-zone adieu: “See you Afghanistan, and thank-you very much”. Would the army even have the logistic capability to command the amount of men that would want to join the first deployment?
Also where is this money coming from? New wages couldn’t be plucked - like the proverbial rabbit -from the magicians hat. Not unless you fill the rabbit shaped hole with other aspects of defence spending; how about the provision for new weapons, new equipment, technical support, or intelligence collection? For those that don’t believe in magic, everyone loves a baking analogy. It would be like decorating a cake, but in order to buy the frosting you had to give up the mouthwatering multi-layered sponge to the confectioner. Yes, you’re going to have great looking frosting but you’ve got nothing to support it, rendering it well and truly moot. Everything that supports the troops on the front line from logistics to intelligence reports - the various layers of the cake - would have to be sacrificed for the ginormous salaries. But what would be the point? Without this support, the soldiers wouldn’t return home to receive their frosting.
One final, perhaps less serious, argument against raising soldier’s wages astronomically is a socialite group we all like to mock - the WAGs. In this generation even the lower branches of the footballing tree earn ridiculous sums, and with every new contract we see another lad-mag graduate promoted to this conveyor belt of unsuccessful fashion labels. The Kardashians of this world demonstrate that with money you can be famous for, well... erm... just being wealthy. Imagine the influx of drivel we’d be exposed to if our soldiers’ WAGs enrolled in this vitriolic school of reality weddings and big tits. What would this mean for Gareth Malone’s Military Wives Choir? Well they wouldn’t be singing to raise money for their troops. They’d be stumbling out of nightclubs; muff exposed to the cold winds and flash of a paparazzi camera. Camp Bastion does not need an OK! magazine culture.
As I hope you can see, the moral bankruptcy of the rich with their money, and I mean a lot of money, is not one that the armed forces needs. Perhaps I’m being too over-simplistic and attributing too much of footballers’ behaviour to money. But when I was writing this article, my greatest conviction came from a recurring thought of Theo Walcott as a soldier. This £100,000-a-week numpty, so detached from reality because of his inflated wealth, once used FIFA terminology to describe his assist to Cesc Fabregas.
Put this into a military context and he’s just massacred an entire airport.