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.
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.
The UK armed forces visit thousands of schools each year. They offer school presentation teams, 'careers advisors', lessons plans, away days and more. While they claim that this is not recruiting, the Ministry of Defence itself states that the activities enable them to "provide positive information to influence future opinion formers, and to enable recruiters to access the school environments." Their youth policy, including school-based cadet forces, aims to create "the conditions whereby recruiting can flourish." This is a long-term approach to recruiting young people both as supporters of the armed forces and, for some, softening them up for actual enlistment.
The deaths of 6 soldiers recently in one incident was particularly tragic because of how young some of them were. Four of the six who died were under 21 years old; one was only 19.
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 alongisde little known contemporary poets with much to say about modern warfare. Most of the poems on the site are written by people who have expereienced conflict, many from Iraq, Afghanistan and the Falklands war.
Below is a favourite by Danny Martin.
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’.
Michael Gove is again talking about extending the cadet forces within schools, this time with the support from the Schools Commissioner (and a senior advisor to the Education Secretary)....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?
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.