News & articles

'Why militarism now? And why target schools?'

Quaker Voices

Alan Penn

'The new tide of militarisation' which Quaker Peace and Social Witness produced in March 2014 was a timely document drawing attention to the ever-present appearance of the military in British society. If militarisation is 'the process by which a society organises itself for military conflict and violence', militarism is the ideology underpinning it. Never entirely absent, from time to time it re-emerges into prominence with increased vigour and purpose. Why now, and why should schools be particularly targeted?

From 1870, when school boards were set up to supplement existing church schools, drill was soon added to the teaching of the three R's. Drill, often of a military nature, provided a respite from the confinement of benches, although some drill took place in aisles between rows of desks when no space was available outdoors. Army drill sergeants were often used to teach boys, though military drill was also taught to infants and to girls. Some boys actually used 'rabbit' guns to shoot at targets on ranges.

An article in 'The School Board Chronicle' in 1871 stated:

"We have little doubt that our School Boards will establish drill in every school under their control, partly because such a form of discipline tends to habits of order, regularity, steadiness, system and method; partly because it tends to strengthen the constitution and to invogorate the health; and partly because it tends to foster a patriotic and military taste among the mases of the people."

Some schools preferred 'ordinary' drill which had no military flavour.

Eventually in its annual report of 1913-14, the Board of Education responded to pressure from non-militants and reported: "Physical exercises and, where possibly, organised games and swimming, provided all that was necessary or desiderable."

Militarism surfaced again in 1930 when [the writer and journalist] John Langdon-Davies commented with disapproval: "In parliament, to which belongs the ultimate authority over education, there has been a significant movement in favour of a definite military training as part of the curriculum." He added: "We must guard against militarism in education because it aims not at the child's good but at the state's good - and that in a very short-sighted way - and because it atrophies individuality by every means in its power."

The same criticism can be levied against governments today...


Read the full original piece, and another piece which explores our film 'Engage: the military and young people' and a film linking conscientious objection to military service in the First World War to resistance to militarism today, here.

What do you think?

Login to post comments