- A few lessons from the FDF
The Finnish Defense Forces does several things differently from the militaries of the United States and most of Europe. It’s partly due to circumstance. Universal male conscription — deriving from a history of very bloody wars with Russia and a principle of neutrality — means that most Finnish men serve, and a culture of service means Finns trust their military at the highest rate in Europe.
Those are some of the many interesting anecdotes in a recent article by Elisabeth Braw in Foreign Affairs. Among them is how the FDF keeps up that level of trust. It’s pretty simple.
For one, the FDF encourages soldiers to discuss their experiences and report problems in regularly-conducted surveys which officers actually read — even when soldiers report positive scores. If a score comes back positive, the FDF will want to know why the scores are positive instead of merely patting itself on the back about a job well done.
If there are problems, the FDF will follow-up and correct them. The officers shout less, and they talk to their soldiers like human beings. The overall result is that only a minority of Finnish conscripts say they would not have served if it wasn’t compulsory. Most soldiers report that they would have served regardless.
These practices in combination might sound like common sense, but ask a U.S. Army soldier whether his or her experience matches that of Braw’s account of the FDF. We’re referring to a U.S. Army which has a recruitment problem, and which ignores and — worse — punishes soldiers with post-traumatic stress.
One final anecdote. An FDF conscript and military analyst told Foreign Affairs that a military cannot “oversell” the experience, referring to the marketing. “You can’t have cool videos of soldiers jumping out of airplanes if you can’t deliver,” the analyst Charly Salonius-Pasternak told Braw. “But equally, don’t undersell.”
FDF videos tend to be on the subdued side.
U.S. Army ads have tended to feature more airplane jumping and waterborne commando raids. Or take the U.S. Marines and the infamous ’90s commercial of a recruit battling a giant lava monster with a sword. The U.S. military has eased up a bit here, although still plays with science fiction.
A much better video, thanks to the YouTube format, is this interview with now-Defense Secretary James Mattis. Someone watching it would likely have a more grounded idea of military service and its positive qualities than a flashy commercial.