ForcesWatch comment


ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published in The Morning Star

This weekend, celebrations of the British armed forces will take place across the UK. Councils up and down the country are organising and supporting military parades, displays of weapons and 'military assets' and military-themed family entertainment.

The national Armed Forces Day event will be held in Liverpool, with city centre and waterfront events including Army, Navy and RAF 'villages', family zones, fly-pasts and a gun salute.

The event is a big one. Its promotion by Culture Liverpool puts it on par with Mersey River Festival, Liverpool International Music Festival and SGT Pepper at 50.

Activists from Merseyside Peace Network with John Lennon's famous call for peace outside The Cavern Club. They will be holding a peace vigil at Liverpool's Armed Forces Day.

It is a day to reflect on how we got to the point where the armed forces are singled out from other public service professions – some of whom also face everyday danger – for a day of national celebration. What are the long-term implications of further entrenching militarism into our culture and equating armed service with 'family-fun'?

The first Armed Forces Day took place in 2009. It was instituted on the basis of government fear that the military were losing the battle for public opinion after it failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The day is billed as, 'a chance to show your support and salute our forces for all they do.' Any concern that what the armed forces do should be open to debate is blotted out. This demonstration of public support for serving personnel is then transformed into support for the institutions of the military, as councils and partner organisations become its promoters and its recruiting sergeants.  

How much does this cost the nation, and local councils each year when other services are facing cuts and closure? Recent evidence suggests that councils have to dip into their reserves, sometimes digging deep, to fund Armed Forces Day.

Despite a grant from the Ministry of Defence and some commercial sponsorship, the day is likely to cost a significant amount of money for Liverpool City Council who has to underwrite it and find the extra funding needed.

In fact the MoD grant for this national event is only £25,000. Whether or not they wish to attend or support the military, the people of Liverpool will be paying and, quite possibly, seeing cuts to council services deepened as a result.


ForcesWatch Comment

John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the first day of their Bed-In for Peace in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel.
CC image courtesy of Nationaal Archief

"Peace is possible, and it isn't just inevitable to have violence... so advertise yourself that you're for peace if you believe in it."

Imagine John Lennon alive today, with a ticket to ride back to his hometown, Liverpool, on 24 June 2017.

He’s not going there to be a voice for peace, equality and social justice. He’s not preparing for another anti-war bed-in with Yoko Ono.

No, John Lennon is abandoning his beloved peace movement for this year’s Armed Forces Day, hosted by Liverpool. He’s off to join the crowds who’ll be cheering on the troops, waving flags proudly at guns and tanks and admiring displays of weaponry.

If this sounds unlikely, I expect you’ll see the irony in the hometown of one of the world’s most iconic anti-war activists, hosting a gigantic public celebration of the war machine.

It saddens me deeply to think about Liverpool, a city I know and love, transformed into a spectacle of war, with warplanes in the sky with the liver birds, field gun races and combat displays. Amongst the sponsors of the event are BAE Systems, one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world. This is a company that consistently sells weapons to oppressive regimes, despite the sanitised version of its activities that Culture Liverpool project.

The annual Armed Forces Day is a relatively new occasion in the UK, introduced long after John Lennon's death, on the basis of government fear that the military were losing the battle for public opinion. Events take place across the UK to celebrate it (this year there are over 350), and local councils bid to host the national event, for which they receive some funding and sponsorship, but also spend significant amounts of their own money.

Had this occurred during Lennon's lifetime, surely he’d be more likely to be rallying the crowds to sing peace songs than taking part in the glorification of military prowess.


Armed Forces Day is on Saturday 24 June, or 17 June in some places. Over 350 events which package war as entertainment with military vehicles, weapons and recruiting stalls will be taking place across the UK. The national Armed Forces Day event is taking place in Liverpool.

Here we list events taking place with provide a message of peace and an alternative to militarism. Let us know of others which we can help promote. 

Send us your reports and pictures from Armed Forces Day or post on social media.

Before You Sign Up cardGet the facts! If you would like a batch of free Before you sign up business cards to distribute, get in touch.

The Before you sign up website looks at what soldiers think of the army, what happens in army training and in war, and, what happens if you want to leave.


'Give Peace a Chance' peace vigil in Liverpool

As the national event, Armed Forces Day in Liverpool will be big. As well as a parade, there will be three miliary zones, each displaying the 'military assets' of one of the three armed forces. There will also be 'street theatre and family zones' and a display area for 'capability demonstrations'.

The tanks and weaponry, child-orientated events, recruitment stalls and combat displays will, ironically, be alongside the John Lennon Peace Monument, unveiled by Julian and Cynthia Lennon in 2010. Liverpool was the hometown of John Lennon, one of the world's most renowned peace activists.

Merseyside Peace Network will be meeting at 11 am on 24 June and are holding a peace vigil at 12-12.45 and 2-2.45 at the gates of Albert Dock with a Give Peace a Chance banner.

There will also be a Peace Fair with a Film Show during the day at Liverpool Quaker Meeting House. See details


ForcesWatch comment

Here is a brief roundup of manifesto pledges on defence and security and some questions for your candidates on their support for a more sustainable and ethical security policy, one that does not result in the promotion of military intervention or military interests within education and civil society.

Defence and security: a quick comparison

The manifestos cover a range of analysis on defence and security - from a traditional focus on 'strong defence' and responding to problems with military action, to a more complex understanding of long-term security and the importance of a wide spectrum of preventative measures. They generally state a commitment to fairness for service personnel and veterans, in terms of welfare and services, but some risk over-promotion of the military. Most commit to maintaining or increasing military spending but not necessarily to looking at how money for defence is spent. All mention Trident, some mention the arms trade - see more below on whether parties are prepared to take an ethical view on them.

Much of the difference in the approach of the parties can be discerned in the detail and the language used, so do take a look at the manifestos themselves. The issues that we focus on at ForcesWatch aren't given a mention but this is an opportunity to raise the profile of the military's involvment in education and raising the age of recruitment to 18 - see below on questions to ask your candidates.

Find your local candidates and their contact details on Who Can I Vote For. This website is updated with candidate details all the time, so please check back regularly.


ForcesWatch and Scientists for Global Responsibility

The military and arms industries are putting large sums of money into our education system and into STEM educational material for schools. Science4Society Week is a chance to focus on learning from less destructive employers.

This article was first published on The Huffington Post

Children today inherit a world beset with insecurity. Huge losses of biodiversity and major erosion of soils are jeopardising food supplies. Severe weather events and sea level rise, due to global climate change, have already begun to devastate lives; and antimicrobial resistance is spreading. Meanwhile, the threat from nuclear weapons is ever-present, and economic inequality and violent conflict continue to be key contributors to global instability.

While we humans are responsible for many of the threats we face, we also hold the answers. The education system through which children begin to gain the skills, knowledge and willpower to deal with these threats is in many ways the custodian of the future.


U.S. Navy photo by Chief Yeoman Alphonso Braggs

In British Science Week 2017, it is apt that we are alerted to the role of science and technology as among the most positive forces for change at humanity’s disposal. The priorities and resources of these fields are a determining factor in the health and the survival of the world’s species including our own.

Yet in British schools, Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) learning and STEM careers advice are influenced by and weighted towards industries with agendas and outputs that contribute to some of the very threats the STEM community must answer.

The military and arms industries are putting large sums of money into our education system and into STEM educational material for schools. STEM activities are delivered by various parts of the armed forces, and schools are encouraged to participate in military and arms focused STEM activities through schemes such as the Big Bang Fair and BAE Systems’ ‘Education Roadshow‘ (run in conjunction with the RAF and Royal Navy). The Ministry of Defence are also developing partnership memorandums of understanding with a range of other STEM providers.


In Yemen, a young woman hopes to become an engineer in order to help rebuild her country. Meanwhile in Britain, BAE Systems, which manufactures weapons used to destroy her country, works with the military to advertise STEM careers to school children.  @UNHCRYemen, @Roadshow_Team


Given the recruitment and marketing agenda of military STEM programmes, this exposure to military images and references to military technologies is often given in a sanitised manner. This encourages unquestioning support of British military interventions and is part of a wider integration of military-led activities into national education policy that has gone virtually unquestioned.