Kids with guns: Should the armed forces encourage young people to interact with weapons and military vehicles?
In June 2014, North Wales Armed Forces Day was held in Wrexham. Wrexham Peace and Justice Forum were concerned that they were being asked to ‘celebrate’ and ‘thank’ the Armed Forces ‘without any critical analysis of the recent conflicts they have been involved in’ and that the event would be used for recruitment, particularly aimed at children.
They coordinated an open letter to Wrexham County Borough Council, which was signed by over 100 people and organisations. The letter protested against the council’s promotion, sponsorship and funding of Armed Forces Day, and specifically the use of a picture of a toddler in military gear to advertise it. It highlighted the terrible effects of war, the inappropriateness of presenting it as entertainment, and the dangers of the recruiting messages at the event. It also raised concerns that the North Wales Armed Forces Day Ambassador (a young veteran) had recommended that under-18s should sign up for the forces.
The letter was also sent to local councillors and the local paper. When the council replied, and following some negative coverage from the media, individuals followed up the initial letter with further letters to the council and local press.
Extracts from the open letter to Wrexham County Borough Council, and from further letters to the council and press from supportive groups and individuals
We note that Wrexham Council is sponsoring and promoting North Wales Armed Forces Day 2014 on Saturday 21 June, and are horrified that a picture of a toddler dressed in military uniform is being used to advertise the event.
We question the use of public funds on such an event at any time, but especially when important public services such as rural public transport, leisure centres and community centres in Wrexham are being cut.
We strongly object to the targeting of children by the military. In 2007, members of Wrexham Peace & Justice Forum and many others protested against a military display in Queens square that included a war machine designed to fire multiple rockets and cluster bombs…
We appreciated the council’s response at that time, which was to refuse the army permission to hold similar events involving war machines on Queens Square and to deny the army its request to lead a parade through town with a tank. It is therefore disappointing to find WCBC now sponsoring, funding and promoting Armed Forces Day as a ‘military themed event for the whole family’ describing it as ‘family fun’ and using a young child on its poster.
… We contend that it is irresponsible and unacceptable for Wrexham Council to be presenting the military and warfare in the context of family entertainment.
We know from advertising that the event is being billed as a family day out, that there will be a military village and climbing wall and many other activities aimed at children. An advert for last year’s event that was held in Flintshire states clearly that this includes army recruitment stalls. North Wales Armed Forces Day Ambassador James Wharton has made a video with Wrexham Council in which he recommends that children aged 16 and 17 should sign up for the armed forces
The council’s response to the open letter came from the Armed Forces Champion. He explained that, ‘by signing the Covenant we, and our partners, undertook to encourage the recognition of Armed Forces through activities such as Freedom, Homecoming and Remembrance parades and support Armed Forces Day.’
He continued that at the ‘obligations of the Armed Forces Covenant and the aims and objectives of the Armed Forces Day…are to raise awareness of and support for the armed forces community and highlight the outstanding contribution it makes to this country. To cement Armed forces Day in the public consciousness…’
Members of the group responded to the Armed Forces Champion and to others in Wrexham Council, saying for example, particularly raising concerns that the use of the event to target recruitment towards children and to associated weapons with entertainment were not addressed.
On the day of the Armed Forces Day event, Wrexham Peace and Justice carried banners, placards and leaflets encouraging alternative perspectives on war.
Quotes from those protests at North Wales Armed Forces Day, Wrexham 2014
‘I came away from the Armed Forces Day in Wrexham yesterday feeling very fearful of the kind of future that lies in store for our young children… ‘
‘Some people were very happy to talk to us about why we were there and share their views and all this was spoiled by the horror of ‘the children’s corner’ quite a discreet distance from the main park but very busy with ‘the military’ enthusiastically demonstrating guns and other killing machines to very small children…’
‘Guns are toys, war is fun, and you’re never too young too get started.’ That was the clear message coming from the Armed Forces Day in Wrexham yesterday, as troops of youngsters paraded in their smart uniforms, and kindly, avuncular soldiers from the Royal Welsh explained the workings of rocket launchers and sub machine guns to children as young as five or six, photographed by proud parents. There were no health warnings. No one explained to the children that thousands just like them, who might have been their friends and playmates, had been killed or maimed by these weapons, or reminded the parents of the many hundreds here, and thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are mourning the loss of their loved ones in unjust wars that have achieved only further violence and suffering…
Groups in Wales have continued to raise awareness about their concerns at subsequent North Wales Armed Forces Days.