ForcesWatch comment

Recently....on the Olympics, strike-breaking and the armed forces

ForcesWatch comment

Will the Olympics normalise the military 'on the streets'?

In an article called 'Olympic Medals for the Military', Professor Michael Clarke, director-general of the Royal United Services Institute argues that the involvement of the military in the Olympics will bring in "a new relationship between the Armed Forces and the general public", in which the former appear "a normal and average part of a relaxed and self-confident British society.”

Clarke notes that "The Chiefs should bottle that spirit for the difficult years to come" and that such "goodwill" will be useful in post-Afghanistan roles, which could include greater involvement in "home security".

Is normalisation of the military within everyday life a good thing? Is it the mark of a "self-confident British society" or would a better indicator of that be a far less visible presence of the military?

The army being seen as having saved the day after the G4S failure is only one way in which the Olympics will have escalated the scale of expected military involvement in civilian events. Such involvement will become the expected norm for the next big public event, here and elsewhere. Indeed, the Home Affairs Select Committee stated in a report on the G4S debacle, that, “in the planning of future major events, the military might more appropriately be considered first choice rather than a back-up.”


The armed forces as strike-breakers?

With a note of caution, Clarke does suggest that a greater presence "on the street" would be unpopular among Chiefs, politicians and the (Metropolitan) police, so "should be seen as a one-off military operation" rather than paving the way for more general involvement in civilian situations such as public sector strikes.

Although he fails to note that a greater street presence is also likely to be unpopular with the general public, he does point out, “the military's success at the Olympics was also a reflection of the success of the Games as a whole. Public order works on the law of averages. A happy crowd is self-policing and easy to handle. A curious crowd, or even more a crowd in a hurry, is a different matter, and the troops never had to deal with that.” In a more stressful situation, there would be unlikely to be such 'goodwill' towards the presence of the armed forces, who may be armed and may well be forceful, within a civilian setting.

With the success of the Olympics in the air, politicians appear to have been making contingency plans in the event of strikes by public sector unions. Dismissing plans to involve the armed forces as 'political posturing', 'defence sources' do not seem to have been impressed. Even less impressed are the unions who have called the reported plans 'provocative' that will 'politicise the role of the armed forces'


Sporting event or military operation?

Each of the forces websites details their involvement with the Olympics adding weight to the conception that the sporting event was one big 'military operation'. The Navy evens claims that the "million strong turnout" for the atheletes parade was “to thank the nation’s Olympians – and the Armed Forces.“

The MoD state that “over 170 members of the Armed Forces acted as flag-bearers and flag-raisers for ceremonies at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, taking part in over 100 'country welcome' ceremonies and 805 victory ceremonies.”


Faith and community groups seeking a peaceful legacy from the Olympics

With an alternative view of the symbolism of the military dimension in the Olympic ceremonies, Pat Gaffney of Pax Christi, one of the instigators of 100 Days of Peace which encouraged initiatives around the idea of a peace legacy for the Olympics, writes, “we publicly challenged LOCOG about the use of armed services in the medal ceremonies, pointing out that parading military personnel would give a strongly nationalistic message to what is an international gathering and highlighting the hypocrisy and insensitivity of using the armed forces in this way when so many in our world live with the reality of war and conflict which is driven by the military. While they could not fully agree with us it is interesting to note that these ceremonies have not been as militarised as they might have been.”

The peace legacy project included “helping teachers to see the depth to which a culture of militarism permeates our lives, and the Games themselves, as a way of setting out the educational challenges. Teachers valued an opportunity to articulate their own concerns and share the difficulties of confronting militarism in schools. They also valued the ‘depth’ we were giving to the Olympics – a change from designing sports gear and menus for Olympic athletes!”


Add your comments

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.

subscribe to blog posts by email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

see more content on:

latest blog entries


The DfE's recent communication to schools about the 70th anniversary of VE Day on 8 May suggests that schools 'will want to celebrate and commemorate' the event. This is the third set of learning materials promoted by the DfE within the past year around military issues. Do 'celebrations' around remembrance events inevitably drown out the more cautious messages about the price of victory?


Here we provide two sample questions that you can ask candidates as well as key points and further sources of information. You can find your candidates contact details using Let us know if you get any responses!

Do you agree that the UK should raise its age of recruitment to 18 in line with the international human rights standards established by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child?

Is the promotion of the armed forces and 'military ethos' appropriate within education? Should parents be consulted about the involvement of the military at their school?

See here for key points to make and sources of information


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. 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.


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


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 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.