ForcesWatch comment



On the 9 April 2012 the UK group of Veterans for Peace was launched. The movement has been long established in the US – ‘exposing the true costs of war and militarism since 1985’.

There are reasons why VfP UK has taken longer to start – the culture and regulations around speaking out are different in the US. It has also been more active in post WW2 conflict (notably in Central America during the 1980s) but also the US military is a massive institution, involving a huge number of people with around 11/2 million active personnel and a similar number of reserves.

However, after ten years of active conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, British ex-service personnel are starting to come together to voice their concerns about the conflicts and what it does to everyone involved.

Ten veterans attended the inaugural meeting. At the public launch they each spoke of what had led them to this point. Barry Ladendorf came all the way from San Diego where he is active in VfP. His chance meeting with Ben Griffin at a ForcesWatch event was instrumental in getting the UK group started. From his experience, the existence of a movement of veterans talking about peace gives others hope. 

Barry emphasised that honouring the service of individuals does not have to mean supporting the wars they are engaged in. Veterans know better than anyone the chaos and devastation that war brings that lasts a lifetime. In the US, a third of the homeless are veterans, while the astronomical cost of war create a lack of public funds for welfare and basic infrastructure to help those who most need support. Suicide and mental health problems amongst veterans are at record high levels but inadequately acknowledged or addressed.



ForcesWatch comment

Poetry about war is perhaps the most immediate way of understanding what it is to be involved, or caught up in, conflict.

The War Poetry website is a great resource, listing famous poets from the first world war alongside little known contemporary poets with much to say about modern warfare. Most of the poems on the site are written by people who have experienced conflict, many from Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands war.

Below is a favourite by Danny Martin. See here for more or Danny's poems.


My thanks to Hollywood
When you showed me John Rambo
Stitching up his arm with no anaesthetic
And giving them “a war they won’t believe”
I knew then my calling, the job for me

Thanks also to the recruitment adverts
For showing me soldiers whizzing around on skis
And for sending sergeants to our school
To tell us of the laughs, the great food, the pay
The camaraderie

I am, dear taxpayer, forever in your debt
You paid for my all-inclusive pilgrimage
One year basking in the Garden of Eden
(I haven’t quite left yet)

Thanks to Mum and thanks to Dad
Fuck it,
Thanks to every parent
Flushing with pride for their brave young lads
Buying young siblings toy guns and toy tanks
Waiting at the airport
Waving their flags

poetry, veterans


Michael Gove is again talking about extending the cadet forces within schools (see article), this time with the support from the Schools Commissioner (and a senior advisor to the Education Secretary), in comments about broadening the curriculum within state schools (see article).

Before being elected, the conservatives ‘pledged’ to involve armed forces personnel more in schools to serve as role models for young people (see article).

In 2011, the Education Secretary announced that expanding cadet forces would instil a ‘spirit of service’ in young people (see article)– a turn of phrase that in itself suggests ‘the military spirit’ and the associated values that go along with it.

Why is the military considered uniquely able to develop a ‘spirit of service’ or promote a disciplined approach? Why does the Schools Commissioner regard Cadet forces amongst a small handful of activities that are seen as broadening the curriculum and offering more opportunity with state schools? Who is being served by children in schools doing drill in the school playground or taking part in adventure activities? There would seem to be many other opportunities available for young people to experience a more direct connection with the concept of ‘service’, through developing extra-curricular activities that engage with the wider community or through activities that reply on team work and shared responsibility. If, however, it is actually service to the country that is being promoted, encouraging the widespread development of cadet forces feels more about serving the needs of the military and state than those of children. Educational establishments are not the place for this.



The intervention of Prince William and Downing Street to compel FIFA to allow the England team to wear poppies during a match rather belies the royal statement that the poppy has 'no political' connotations. In fact, wearing the red poppy has never been free of political values, not least because it reinforces the view that war is acceptable, however regrettable. Currently, its ubiquity in the run up to Remembrance Day feels less and less about genuine reflection on the suffering of individuals caught up in war, and increasingly about showing support for the military as a whole, and its actions. 

Celebrities, companies and the media are all playing their part in creating a culture where not wearing the poppy in the public eye is seen as unpatriotic. The FIFA row was even the first item on Children's BBC Newsround with school children drafted in to show their indignation.

As the 'lest we forget' message, which should be core to the act of remembrance, is overshadowed by a celebrity-led and unquestionning reverance, the opportunities for these young people to develop the critical awareness they need to understand the reality of armed conflict will diminish.