Armed Forces Day 2023: militarism comes to Cornwall

June 2023

This year the national Armed Forces Day event is being held in Falmouth, Cornwall. Many other events are being held around the country.

  • Press release about Armed Forces Day from Campaign Against Arms Trade, the Peace Pledge Union, ForcesWatch, Demilitarise Education, Cornwall Resists and local and national Quaker organisations.
  • Quakers, ForcesWatch and Demilitarise Education are speaking at a screening of War School on Thursday 22 June in Falmouth.

Marketed as family entertainment

Many Armed Forces Day events are marketed as family entertainment, such as Falmouth's 'dazzling family-friendly celebrations', but celebrating war as a fun day out leads to an uncritical acceptance of military approaches and preparation for war. It leaves no place for acknowledging the negative consequences of war, experienced in other parts of the world right now, and the impact on all those affected by wars in the past and recent times.

Battle of Atlantic event, Liverpool, June 2023

A tool for recruitment and influencing young people

Public displays of weapons and military vehicles at large military events such as Armed Forces Day are used to promote the armed forces as a career to children. Even very young children are encouraged to handle weapons such as pistols, rifles and machine guns. Cornwall Council's impact assessment for the event does not mention that there could be any concerns about this, such as the normalisation of weapons and armed violence.

“The armed forces outreach teams are also offering visits to schools, including Navy activities for children as young as 10 and Army and RAF careers activities for young people aged 14 or more. With local schools also invited to the event, the armed forces are leaving no stone unturned in reaching kids despite the council's own assessment that there are people and groups in the community that do not support the event."
ForcesWatch, press release, June 2023

In Falmouth, visiting the Military Village is listed as one of the ways that young people and schools can 'get involved'. Schools and colleges have been invited to a 'special preview' where the 'Army, Navy and RAF – will showcase a range of military capability and equipment including STEM-specific activities and challenges.'

Battle of Atlantic event, Liverpool, June 2023

Outreach visits with an armed forces team have also been available to schools 'to provide practical demonstrations and teach-ins', and an Armed Forces Day Robotics Challenge is aimed at primary aged pupils in years 3 and 4. The Armed Forces Day website also includes learning resources which are designed to give an military slant to STEM and history subjects.

Schools and young people are being encouraged to show support to the armed forces via resources and activities that portray a sanitised image of military activities. Their promotional emphasis does not facilitate critical thinking about conflict, military action and the arms trade.

Cost to local communities

Cornwall Council have budgeted over £350,000 for the national Armed Forces Day events. A further £192,000 had been received from private sponsorship by May. The MoD are only contributing £50,000 which is one seventh of the council's contribution and one twelfth of the estimate total cost, yet they are a significant stakeholder in, and beneficiary of, the event.

Similar amounts have been spent in previous years (see here and here). The MoD funding for the national event has risen from £25,000 to £50,000. However, across the country, there are fewer events this year than before the pandemic, which perhaps reflects that council's are less able to fund costly events despite match-funding up to £10,000 made available by the MoD.

Sponsorship by arms companies

One of the main sponsors of many of the national Armed Forces Day events is BAE Systems, the UK's largest arms company. The company is a Gold sponsor of the Falmouth events, which allows it to gain public exposure at the event and in the wider community.

"Between 2015 to 2022, BAE received £22.4 billion from arms sales to the Saudi regime for its use in its war with Yemen. War crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition include the bombings of hospitals, funerals and schools, causing one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. BAE always has, and always will, prioritise the wallets of shareholders over human lives.”
Campaign Against Arms Trade, press release, June 2023

BAE Systems (listed as the 6th largest arms company in the world) also sponsored Portsmouth Armed Forces Day (with others).

Babcock International and AECOM (also listed in the top 100 global arms companies) sponsored Plymouth Armed Forces Day (with others).

Divisive within the community

Events such as Armed Forces Day, and the partnerships entered into as part of the Armed Forces Covenant, oblige local councils and other public bodies to create support for the military, when this should not be their role. These councils risk alienating parts of the local community (including those with first hand experience of conflict) by aligning themselves with the armed forces in a celebratory way, while other public services are not given the same level of public recognition.

In an impact assessment for Cornwall Armed Forces Day, the council state:

We recognise that the views and beliefs of some groups and individuals will mean that they do not support the event. We respect the right for people to have a different opinion and will work with those groups wishing to express their different opinions by accommodating safe protest. We will ensure as always, our communications and content meets the standards and requirement for balance as set out by the Local Government Association.

However, the publicity for the event suggests that such balance and regard for differing opinion is lacking. Instead, the event is being marketed with overblown rhetoric about  'Treasuring the past, seizing the future' and putting Cornwall 'firmly on the national stage'. Comments made by the Cornwall Council cabinet member responsible for the event suggest that he may not have read the impact assessment and is oblivious to the fact that there will be differing opinions on celebrating the military:

“I’d like to see every village and town, every shop and business, every individual and workplace, every school and college taking part and applauding our armed forces in the most imaginative and enthusiastic ways possible.”


Our articles and resources about Armed Forces Day

Podcasts: What's wrong with Armed Forces Day (2020) with Symon Hill of The Peace Pledge Union, and Unpacking Armed Forces Day with Dr Ross McGarry (2022).

Produced by ForcesWatch and Quaker Peace & Social Witness, this website and resource pack provides an introduction to current expressions of militarism and ideas for challenging it in local communities.

Our Kids with Guns resource questions whether  the armed forces encourage young people to interact with weapons and military vehicles?  We explore why this is happening and how can it be challenged?
This booklet produced by Quakers in Britain provides resources and advice for challenging military activities within schools.
See War School online and associated learning resources