Kids with guns
Young children and teenagers are encouraged to handle weapons and interact with military vehicles at armed forces promotional and recruitment events.
Why is this happening, is it right and how can it be challenged?
Over the last few years we have gathered evidence about young people taking part in military events and displays. We have heard from local communities around the country raising concerns and setting out to challenge their local armed forces and local councils about this.
People felt shocked and dismayed to see young children climbing on tanks, handling machine guns and picking up handguns. Not because these weapons were active, but because of a feeling that this was inappropriate and harmful.
As well as events in public spaces, many people have raised concerns about the normalisation of weapons and armed violence as part of military promotion in schools and youth organisations.
Displaying weapons and military vehicles to attract young people is of course not new. However, the context in which these activities occur has shifted under what has been called ‘a new tide of militarisation’. The relationship between the military and civil society has a number of new aspects that have recently been put into place and which are intended to raise the visibility of the armed forces and to promote its interests within society.
A number of these developments, such as the Armed Forces Covenant, have concretely changed the context within which policy decisions are made, or not made.
The relationship between civil society and the military and state sanctioned violence is one that ebbs and flows. It shifts as new policies and practices are adopted, which in turn influence public opinion. Public debate via the media, films and TV, community initiatives etc also play a vital role.
Here we focus on the use of weapons and military vehicles in publicity events. This is for the simple reason that they are used to spark interest in a military career in impressionable young children and teenagers. They build on an already militarised culture in which military weapons are ‘cool’ and associated with excitement and empowerment. This gives them the power to create an instinctive response in vulnerable adolescent or pre-adolescent minds, reinforcing youth militarisation and deterring critical awareness.
With growing calls for an active dialogue with young people around violence, most urgently because of deaths and injuries due to knife crime in particular, a wider conversation about the allure of weapons is vital. Furthermore, the level of virtual violence depicted in culture and gaming, in which young people are often immersed from a young age, is at an all time high.
The military seek to capitalise on the normalisation of weapons and violence in the everyday experience of gaming and has increasingly formal partnerships with the gaming industry for its recruitment drives. The weapons used or depicted are the same, whether a machine gun is decommissioned and approved for handling by the local army or whether it is the weapon of choice in a first person shooter game.
We hope that local communities and the bodies that represent them will make conscious and concrete decisions where possible over how young people interact with the means of military violence – weapons and military vehicles, and act to create full awareness of what they represent. Weapons are not toys nor should they be handled without awareness. War is not a game. Where there is the possibility to affect how these messages are delivered to young people, we urge local communities to take them.