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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.


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A recent article called The Morning After: Unfriendly Fire by James Poniewozik in Time Magazine critiques a new reality TV show from the US TV channel NBC. Stars Earn Stripes, "in which celebrities are paired with soldiers to carry out special-forces-type maneuvers, was denounced by nine Nobel laureates, including South African bishop Desmond Tutu, for glamourising war and its violence by making them into entertainment."

Poniewozik agrees that "it makes war into entertainment", and asserts that it is "cynical" in "giving people the excitement of battle minus its blood and consequences—by wrapping it in idealism: competing for charity, claiming to exist simply to remind us how dangerous the job of"

But he argues' "But when it comes to propagandizing war—or anything else—reality shows are more harmful when they take actual combat and package it in entertainment form." 

Thats something that Poniewozik wrote about in 2002 in an article called Mediawatch: That's Militainment! "There's a new alliance in Hollywood: the military-entertainment complex. The networks need a new twist on reality TV, the genre that has cooled since 9/11--or perhaps, in part, because of it. The Pentagon has a p.r. issue: How do you maintain public interest in a war that could stay on simmer--an air strike here, a wiretap there--for years? The symbiotic solution: send reality TV to war."

Ten years on, we have a raft of militainment on UK TV. Current programming cindlues Richard Hammond's Crash Course on BBC2 and Elite Forces on Discovery. The BBC maintains an online archive of military programming Army: A Very British Institution.  


ForcesWatch comment

A parliamentary question reveals that during 2011 there were 228 allegations of bullying or harassment reported to the Service Complaints Commissioner.

Another parliamentary question has identified that 'Over the past two and a half years, there have been 53 reported rapes and 86 reported sexual assaults in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force (one per week).

Labour MP Madeleine Moon said she was concerned there was a 'culture of silence', with hundreds of victims never reporting attacks.

Figures from the US estimate that only 13.5% of victims of sexual assault in the armed forces ever report the attack. If this figure is true for the UK, that would mean one attack a day.The articles states that of these cases, 'only nine rape cases and 45 sexual assault complaints have ended in conviction.'

Sadly, an article from April this year (Why did she die? Sister of hanged military policewoman demands Armed Forces watchdog inquiry into her death) links these 2 issues – with the suicide of a military policewoman after being raped and then bullied for making a complaint.


ForcesWatch comment

Over the past month, amid announcements of major cuts to the armed forces, came some unexpected news on public spending: £10.85million to expand cadet forces into state schools, a £1million grant to promote a military ethos in schools and senior Labour politicians calling for a series of 'Service Schools', staffed entirely by former members of the armed forces, to be established. Unexpected, that is, to anyone who hasn't previously been aware of the importance that military policy makers place on access to young people within education.

The money, which comes in addition to the £155m of public money already spent each year on the cadets (Youth Engagement Review, MoD, 2011), is to promote cadet forces in state schools (where less than a quarter of existing units are based) – either by partnering with existing units, or creating new ones. The rationale behind doing so is not as clear cut as politicians such as Stephen Twigg and Jim Murphy would have us believe.

'Rescuing the Young'....

The idea of 'Service Schools', founded on the 'ethos and values of the Services', has its background in a recent ResPublica report on establishing Military Academies and promoting a greater armed forces presence in the education sector. Post-riots, the idea of more discipline in schools, and soldiers as those best positioned to undertake this task, has become increasingly popular. In their report, the authors cite 'Rescuing the Young' as a key reason for Military Academies; military run summer schools that would keep youth out of trouble during the summer months, and schools with a military ethos which promote the values the armed forces are, according to the politicians promoting these schemes, so respected for.

ResPublica's assertion that cadet forces promote a positive social attitude and keep young people out of trouble is not unfounded – a study by Graham Moon entitled 'The Societal Impact of Cadets' (2010, Southampton) demonstrates that these assertions are grounded in solid evidence. However, if youth crime and a lack of out-of-school activities are the problem then why is that £11m is not being given to projects such as Futureversity (a summer university for teenagers based in East London) or the Children's University (a national scheme promoting out of school education) both of whom have equally well respected impact assessments demonstrating the positive impact they have on their participants. The money could also be used to fund youth services that have seen severe cuts up and down the country.

...and other strategic reasons

An answer to the question of why money is being pumped into cadets instead of non-militarised youth activities lies in two other justifications that ResPublica give for Military Academies – providing opportunities for those who have left the full-time armed forces and revitalising the Reserve Forces.


ForcesWatch comment

Today is 'Camo Day', established by SSAFA Forces Help to encourage school children across the country to 'dress up like our troops' as a fundraiser. 'Cam your face, wear green or come to school as a soldier, sailor or airman.' Camo Day is a non-uniform day to fit these increasingly militaristic times when supporting the armed forces is a badge of honour for celebrities and military involvement in the education system is commonplace and uncontroversial. Camo Day promotes the value of helping ex-service men and women but also reinforces military activities as fun, normal and desirable. Questions about why so many young men and women are killed or maimed or in need of welfare are unlikely to be explored.

Tomorrow is Armed Forces Day – a day “to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and opportunity to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces.”

The Armed Forces Day website states that that “UK Armed Forces defend the UK and its interests. They are busy working around the world, promoting peace, delivering aid, tackling drug smugglers and providing security and fighting terrorism.”  This is something of a rebranding of the unpopular wars that the UK has been involved in for 10 years. This economy with the truth extends to the activity materials provided for schools as part of the big celebration.