This letter from ForcesWatch staff member Douglas Beattie was first published in the Camden New Journal on 23 June 2016
It was with deep unease that I learnt Camden had raised the Armed Forces Flag earlier this week in support of Armed Forces Day.
The borough, I’m told, is required to hoist the flag because in 2013 it signed the Armed Forces Community Covenant; a mistake in my view.
Armed Forces Day has been described by the Quakers as “a glossy front behind which sits a deliberate strategy to manipulate the public”. Celebrating our armed forces in this way suggests an uncritical acceptance of military approaches to conflict resolution.
The clear aim, led by the defence ministry and the Tory government, is for the UK to become more militarised in an everyday sense; adopting militaristic values and priorities and to see military solutions as particularly effective.
Since 2012 the government has committed over £90million for new programmes in schools with “a military ethos” while slashing Education Maintenance Allowance, Disabled Students Allowance and mental health services for young people.
Military-led activities in national education policy include aggressive plans to spread Army Cadet Forces to state schools (over 500 by 2020); arms companies and the military sponsoring new academies and influencing what they teach, plus military personnel being brought ever more into classrooms.
Where is the public debate about any of this?
ForcesWatch – an organisation I work for and which scrutinises the military – makes the point that getting young people to sign up is a long-term process rather than a single event, and much of it takes place in the classroom. It’s a point hard to deny when examining the array of evidence.
AFD itself has been criticised in recent years for holding events in which children not yet old enough to go to school are allowed to handle guns as part of the “fun”.
Readers may not be aware that the UK is one of just a handful of countries in the world which still recruits at 16 years of age. It is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council, member of the EU and NATO to do so. Children’s commissioners, children’s charities, teaching unions, veterans groups and parliamentarians are now calling for the age of recruitment to rise to 18.
In the last month the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child again called on this country to “reconsider its active policy of recruitment of children into the armed forces and ensure that recruitment practices do not actively target persons under the age of 18 and ensure that military recruiters’ access to schools be strictly limited”.
As long as we have PR events such as AFD the military will continue its unseen march into the heart of our communities.
It is peace we must strive for, not increasing militarisation which can beget nothing but more violence and a more dangerous and aggressive world.
Councillor Douglas Beattie