λ ‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
Introduced by Rob Fairmichael
the militarisation of young people
“Our lives extend beyond our skins, in radical interdependence with the rest of the world.”
Joanna Rogers Macy
Modern life has so many complexities that there are areas which do not receive the attention they deserve. One of these is assuredly the way that young people are socialised into violence. For those of us committed to overcoming militarism we are clear that untested belief in the efficacy and attractiveness of military force is a key part of this. There can be something distasteful in arguments about ‘getting them young’ but if those in the peace movement do not try to get our case and arguments out there, if we accept the subtle and gross propaganda for violence which is out there in so many forms, then we are giving up before we have started. We need at least an openness in society and an avenue to be heard.
We have commented numerous times in these pages about the irony of the ‘peace process’ in Northern Ireland opening up the possibilities of increasing recruitment to the British Army from Ireland. The military seeks to exploit the situation that now exists for its own ends. The recruiting sergeant no longer offers a shilling but a steady job, excitement, travel (to war zones!) and training (which may or may not happen). The Irish Army, meanwhile, may not have had an imperialist or neo-imperialist agenda but is increasingly being sucked into serving a common EU ‘defence’ and foreign policy along with the ‘big boys’ (a sad state of affairs given the anti-imperialist nature of the original Irish nationalist revolution against the British, and, indeed, the military peacekeeping role the Irish army has played at considerable personal cost for half a century).
Unfortunately video games and film can do a good job of softening up children and young people to violent imagery and persuading them that war is an exciting fact of life rather than a terrible eventuality to be avoided. The anniversary of the start of the First World war may be used also to suggest that ‘your country still needs you’ rather than concluding ‘that was a disaster which should never be repeated and we need drastically different approaches to the world to avoid it in future’.
War Resisters’ International (WRI) has produced a very useful book on the whole topic of the inculcation of military thinking among young people: “Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter It”, edited by Owen Everett, available on the WRI website and also available to purchase in paper form there for UK£5 plus postage (145 pages, ISBN 978-0-9035171-27-0). Online you can see the chapter headings for the parts most useful to you. The book includes sections on gender and queer perspectives, and on resistance. It is well worth study and reflection on this vital area of concern.
I’ll conclude with some quotes from the book:
“The seeds of militarisation are planted and replanted long in advance to yield the crop of conflict and war and provide a supply of human and material resources to the world’s armies. Emma Sangster, in her article in this book, quotes a frank statement by the former head of recruitment strategy in the British Army, Col. David Allfrey, to this effect: “Our new model is about raising awareness and that takes a ten-year span. It starts with a seven-year-old seeing a parachutist at an air show and thinking, “That looks great.” From then the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip. ” ” - Sergeiy Sandler in the introduction.
“The purpose of armed forces may be vague; the soldier’s role in it is not, even if this is rarely spelt out. It is no use looking for a description of the soldier’s role in military recruitment literature. The brochure for the British Infantry, for example, describes the infantryman’s job as to ‘defeat the enemy’, ‘engage an enemy’, ‘engage the target’, make ‘decisive strikes’ – all fantasy euphemisms as nonsensical as a baker who ‘facilitates nutrition’ or a teacher who ‘pedagogicalises information’. If the teacher teaches and the baker bakes, then the soldier soldiers. What does this involve? General Michael Rose, who commanded UN forces in Bosnia, is unusual among his peers in his frankness: ‘No other group in society is required either to kill other human beings, or expressly sacrifice themselves for the nation.’ Essentially, the soldier’s job is to kill or threaten to kill (a word absent from the 12,000-word Infantry brochure) and accept the risk of being killed or injured. This is just as true of humanitarian peacekeepers – their guns are not loaded for nothing.” – David Gee
“The reality of armed forces life is nothing like the brochures and online ads. New recruits in all countries become subject to special national and international laws that nullify many civil, political and human rights, such as the right not to be required to perform forced or compulsory labour. The legal obligations of enlistment prevent those who want to leave from doing so (for four years or more in the UK); soldiers may be incarcerated if they try and many have been. Young people from the poorest neighbourhoods targeted by recruiters typically have underdeveloped literacy skills, which puts them at a disadvantage when trying to understand the complex commitments involved in order to make a free and informed choice.”
- David Gee
“The Armed Force’s presence in public spaces [in Germany- Ed] has grown markedly in recent years. Advertising in the media in particular should, according to the Ministry of Defence, be increased massively. In 2010, the Armed Forces opened their first recruitment office in the Saarbrücken central railway station, which could be seen as an attempt to be permanently present in the centres of large cities. Since the suspension of conscription, the district conscription boards are to be replaced by 'career centres' and 'career offices', but how this is going to be done – whether the present district conscription boards will also include a promotion and information unit, or whether they will be closed and promotional offices will be opened in city centres instead – is not yet known. As long as the German government continues with an expansionist military policy undertaking global military operations, the promotion of the military on the 'home front' will increase too, until a sufficient number of soldiers are recruited and the German population has been made to accept war.”
- Michael Schulze von Glaßer
“Persuading the German people that German soldiers - many of them young - should go to war is not an easy endeavour. Every militarist tries to do so and each one has a different explanation for people’s reluctance............A potent mixture is concocted for this [militarist – Ed] concept: war as the way of carrying out economic interests, participation in these wars as a service to society, death as sacrifice for the homeland, killing as bravery.”
- Jonna Schürkes, also writing about Germany
“As militant Islam replaces militant nationalism as the overarching ideology, militarism is becoming ever more dangerous. Nationalism is a human product. Islam, on the other hand, is portrayed as God-given and therefore cannot be challenged. Religion can provide militarism a very effective shield and access to various domains that militarism was not previously able to penetrate. This mix of militarism and religion is harder to resist and to defeat. As the state in Turkey becomes less secular, young people in particular are being subjected to an increasingly more militaristic and totalitarian order.”
- Serdar M. DeÄŸirmencioÄŸlu writing about 'Young people in Turkey besieged by militarism: Past and present'
“There have been some notable, if small, successes. In six schools nationwide [in Germany – Ed], collaboration with the armed forces was rejected through the decision of the students or by a staff conference. These ‘military-free schools’ are pioneers - models for other schools that also wish to oppose the militarisation of their institution. Three of them were awarded the Aachen Peace Prize this year. Direct actions have also had results: the armed forces have been known to call off promotional events after some such protests. In the University of Education in Freiburg, an army event took place only with a massive police presence, following the online announcement of protests. As a result, Freiburg youth officers had to decline an invitation from the university’s student council for an armed forces role play. At a vocational school in Hessen, a youth officer had to cancel a visit because of a critical questionnaire he was sent beforehand: his superiors no longer approved of the meeting. The armed forces are not at all immune to protests; they can be made to retreat.”