General Lord Dannatt said he believed the Armed Forces could set an example to wider society through the education of recruits in the importance of moral and ethical standards.
“In past generations, it was often assumed that young men and women coming into the Armed Forces would have absorbed an understanding of the core values and standards of behaviour required by the military from their family or from within their wider community,” he told the Theos think-tank annual lecture.
“Indeed, such standards would have typified our society more generally. I suggest such a presumption cannot be made today.”
In his speech, Lord Dannatt said mental and moral preparation of soldiers was as important as physical training. He described the British Army as an “extremely professional military force”, adding that the “overwhelming” majority of soldiers strive to apply the correct standards in the most difficult conditions.
But he said it was a “sad fact” that a “small number” of individuals had “let us down”. He described the case of Baha Mousa – an Iraqi civilian who suffered a brutal death in British Army custody – as “unforgivable”.
“All our soldiers must know that collectively and individually, we can, and should, and will, be called to account when things go wrong,” he said.
In his lecture, The Battle For Hearts And Minds: Morality And Warfare Today, Lord Dannatt, a committed Christian, said the “spiritual dimension” should not be overlooked.
“For some, belief in the cause, belief in the leader or even given the tribal nature of the British Army, belief in the regiment will be enough. I disagree,” he said.
“What really sustains is something more than this – something far bigger than ourselves, something bigger and deeper than we can imagine or rationalise for ourselves.”