ForcesWatch comment

28/06/2014

Letter to The Times (see all signatories below)

On this day 100 years ago, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo in an action that led to the First World War. Unchecked militarism in Europe was also a major factor. 

Today is also Armed Forces Day, one of the clearest indications of the re-militarisation of British society. Established in 2009 to increase public support for the forces, there are over 200 public events, many billed as 'family fun days'. This week also saw Uniform to Work Day promoting the reserve forces and 'Camo Day' in schools. 

Behind this PR offensive is a raft of policy that is embedding 'public support' for the military within our civilian institutions - from the promotion of 'military ethos' in schools, to the Armed Forces Community Covenant and Corporate Covenant that aim to enlist every local authority and major business to support the armed forces and aid recruitment. 

Over 453 UK service personnel have died in Afghanistan; 34 were just 18 or 19 years old. Thousands more have to cope with long-term physical and mental problems. With so many military casualties - not to mention uncounted numbers of civilians deaths - and new security threats that waging war has created, surely it is time to reflect on the longer-term impact of our military culture and to ask what steps we might take to prevent war itself. 

Philip Austin, Northern Friends Peace Board

Richard Bickle, Fellowship of Reconciliation (England)

Hannah Brock, War Resisters' International

Kevin Burr, National Justice and Peace Network

Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi UK

Ben Griffin, Veterans for Peace UK

Bruce Kent, Vice President, Movement for the Abolition of War

Jan Melichar, Peace Pledge Union

Lorraine Mirham, UK Women's International League for Peace and Freedom 

Emma Sangster, ForcesWatch


10/12/2014

ForcesWatch comment

Background

On 7 December 2014, Michael Gove’s successor as Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan made her support for the Military Ethos in Schools programme clear by pledging a further £4.8 million to eight ‘alternative provision with a military ethos’ schemes. This follows previous funding between 2012 and 2014 that amounted to £8.2 million.

ForcesWatch have previously raised concerns over the funding of alternative provision with a military ethos, noting that by targeting those children who are most disadvantaged within society, these militarised initiatives may restrict children’s options, even channelling them into the armed forces. Furthermore, being co-ordinated by armed forces veterans, it is debatable to what extent alternative provision with a military ethos provides a balanced insight into life in the armed forces. Implicit within alternative provision with a military ethos is the assumption that the ‘ethos’ of the armed forces makes veterans particularly qualified to develop young children and improve their life-chances. In reality, this assumption needs examination, especially considering the ample claims of bullying, sexual harassment, and human rights abuses that are regularly levied against the armed forces. Whilst some armed forces veterans may make excellent mentors for students, these qualities are not conditional on their socialisation within the military, and many civilians, in other public services for example, will possess similar qualities. Finally, we question whether tthis is really all about raising educational attainment. Are there wider agendas at work and are military-based activities appropriate within education?

The Quakers have written a letter with their concerns about the new announcement to Nicky Morgan, which can be read here. Below are our key initial concerns.

22/10/2014

ForcesWatch comment

This year over 550 schools around the country have held a Red, White and Blue Day on 11th October, which involves pupils raising money for three military charities by wearing clothes in the colours of the Union flag, or holding another fundraising event.

Whilst the military charities may be funding valuable services for armed forces families, the method of fundraising in schools is very questionable. Is this patriotic celebration of the armed forces, and trivialising of war (for example getting primary school students to pretend to be soldiers) appropriate within schools? Whilst the day is notionally about 'what life is like for the thousands of Service children in the UK', it looks more like just another opportunity for school children to be be won over with military hardware or have to listen to armed forces presentations 'about service and life in the Armed Forces.'  Was there time for discussion or reflection on Red, White and Blue Day about the real effect of war on service children, as well as those serving, or wider issues such as the ethics of war? How do students from countries that have recently experienced - or are experiencing - conflict feel when war is trivialised or the focus reverts again to the Second World War, which has become a hollow symbol of Britishness, with much of the reality of it forgotten?

There are an increasing number of special days or commemorative periods in schools dedicated to the military or the armed forces: Camo Day, Armed Forces Day, Uniform to Work Day (for reservists), Remembrance events and the poppy appeal and National Heroes Day. While the latter widens the possibility of who a hero can be - not just military people (although quite a few of these are listed) but also firefighters, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and others - it still just raises money for the military charity Help for Heroes.

There is no other group in society for which there exists half a dozen different occasions throughout the year when schools are asked to honour them. School children should not be called upon to show unqualified support for the armed forces and they should not be seen as a fundraising opportunity in place of inadequate state provision for those that are sent into war and their families.

19/08/2014

This article was originally published in Red Pepper

Vron Ware reports on how the Armed Forced Community Covenant is a crucial part of the creeping militarisation of UK society.

As we mark the centenary of WW1 the UK armed forces are enjoying the highest levels of public support that they have seen for decades. One result of the global 'war on terror' has been the elevation of military service, not just as an exceptional form of labour which is due particular rewards, but also as an occupation that benefits the whole society. The last few years have seen the increasing application of military values, methods and even training in civilian spheres such as education, youth work and leisure. The Department for Education, for example, promotes the ‘military ethos’ in schools on the grounds that this ‘helps foster confidence, self-discipline and self-esteem whilst developing teamwork and leadership skills’ (the original 'landing page' for the Military Ethos in Schools programme has not been included on the DfE's new website, leading to suspicions that it was removed quietly in response to numerous criticisms and concerns raised about the programme). In November 2013 the DfE announced that £4.8 million would be allocated to fund new projects run by former armed services personnel after research showed they were ‘turning around the lives of thousands of young people’.

Over the past year, a new network of writers, artists and campaigners has been forming in opposition to the creeping militarization of everyday life, an issue analysed in Sam Walton's recent piece for Red Pepper. This was partly inspired by a ForcesWatch conference in London in October 2013. The conference spanned numerous angles, from the development of ‘militainment’ in popular culture to the ruthless promotion of the UK arms industry in the global war economy.

As politicians have sought to prove their own commitment to the troops in an effort to control ‘the message’ about the wars, they have effectively turned this public concern into a political instrument. One consequence has been that, within the last two or three years, local authorities up and down the country, from borough to county level, urban, metropolitan and rural, have been ushered into an unprecedented programme of support for the armed forces in their areas. This development is symptomatic of a wider process of integrating military work into civil society, but it also reveals the social costs of maintaining a professional military force at home.

01/07/2014

ForcesWatch comment

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 education@forceswatch.net / 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.

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07/11/2011

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Film launch

Why does the military have a 'youth engagement' policy and why is the government promoting 'military ethos' within education? What is the impact of military activities taking place in schools? ForcesWatch have been working with the charity Headliners and a group of young people in London to produce this short film which explores these questions and gives teenagers the opportunity to voice their reaction to the military’s interest in their lives.

Watch the film and see more info here

Militarisation in everyday life in the UK
An event in October 2013 which brought together academics, writers, activists and campaigners who are researching, writing, campaigning on the implications of militarisation of UK society. See more here including background reading and films of presentations.