On Thursday 26 June 2014, we launched our new short documentary film 'Engage: the military and young people', at Friends House in London. A packed and diverse audience watched the film, which was very well-received. Ben Griffin, founder of Veterans for Peace UK, spoke on his experience joining the Army as a result of being in the cadets and his reasons for leaving during the invasion of Iraq; Sam Hepworth, staff member of Headliners (the youth journalists charity who made the film) and some of the young filmmakers spoke about their approach to researching and making the film; and Owen Everett, Education Campaign worker at ForcesWatch, outlined the concerns about the promotion of 'military ethos' and the cadets within education.
The lively discussion was testament to the film's balance which provoked both those critical of the military's 'engagement' with young people and those supportive of aspects of it. The film shows that many young people are critical of military activities in their schools and the motivations behind it. It also shows that, while participation in cadet activities may benefit some young people, it also makes them more likely to consider joining the armed forces. The film questions the agenda behind the 'youth engagement' policy and the reluctance of the Department for Education and Ministry of Defence to discuss it with young people themselves.
Other important points were made. There are alteratives to the cadets, such as the Woodcraft Folk and the Scouts, who provide similar activities and personal development opportunities to the cadets, but without the cadets' military context and status as a tool for recruitment into the armed forces and for giving young people a positive impression of the armed forces as a 'noble, fun' institution. Contributions from veterans highlighted the need to understand the reality of what the armed forces do for anyone considering joining up.
The launch was timely, given the recent government announcement of a further £1 million towards the expansion of the Combined Cadet Force in state schools - which prompted this critical piece from Giles Fraser - and the fact that (armed forces) Uniform to Work Day, Camo Day (schoolchildren dressing as armed forces personnel to raise money for an armed forces charity), and Armed Forces Day all happened last week: see here for our piece on this on openDemocracy, 'The creep of militarism into our civil institutions'.
British Forces News filmed some of the film launch, for a video piece on 'the presence of the armed forces in British Schools'.
The full film should be available on the ForcesWatch website by Wednesday 9 July. In the meantime you can watch a trailer of it at http://www.forceswatch.net/young-people-military
Our task once the film is online is to get it watched by as many people as possible - especially young people. Please help us by circulating the link to your friends, family and colleagues. If you have connections to any schools, colleges or youth groups in the UK, please get in touch with Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7837 2822, as we are delivering workshops and assemblies based on the film.
Photos from the launch: top - Sam Hepworth and some of the film-makers, and Ben Griffin; middle - Simone and Shanelle, Air Cadets who both feature in the film; bottom - news article about 'the presence of the armed forces in British schools' on British Forces News.