Maybe it was just me, but I never really got the ‘army’ thing.
In the infant school yard, when I was 7 or 8, gangs of lads would roam around in a growing flock chanting, “Anyone! Playinat! ArrrMee!”
I’d sort of half get involved, loitering at the edges of the crowd all busily ordering themselves into two sides. Then suddenly it was war! and everyone just went wild with air-guns (as in air-guitar) and air-grenades, accompanied by larynx snapping sounds of explosions and death gurgles. It’s a bit of a shame really that even by such a tender age I seemed to have developed an self consciousness. I couldn’t quite give myself over to pretence; not for that, at least. Not for ‘army’.
Now, I can look back on the first invasion of Iraq in 1990, and see myself, nineteen and arrogant, watching the hazy, sepia images of buildings exploding on jet targeting systems, feeling nothing but a total disconnection with what I was witnessing. My mind had no genuine understanding that what was taking place on the TV, was doing so in a reality I was part of.
Warfare has settled into every crevice of our society. It is so omnipresent, it has become generally accepted as part of the human condition; a sentiment I refute with every cell in my body. When our politicians speak about ‘progress’, have you ever asked yourself where we are progressing to? And what ever happened to processes prior to conflict? Before we get to a warring stage, shouldn’t all other manner of dealing with the problem be exhausted first? Negotiations, international economic pressure, the non-violent strategic use of the UN, etc. This, in our enlightened Age of the Terrorist, has been circumvented so often that the strike-first-think-later route to war has too become accepted as necessary. So, even in its best light, war is a state of breakdown, a localised collapse of civilisation to its most base and barbaric. A place where usually young men, under the new appellation of ‘soldiers’, are given license to kill other, similarly young, renamed and permitted to murder, human beings. When this madness occurs in the 21st century, it is viewed by a British society predominately suffering from an emotional severance with humanity, quite like my younger self. Or maybe the news and the tabloids have got to you and you’re full of nationalistic pride for our heroes, forgetting there’s a difference between patriotism and nationalism. Or, just maybe you are one of the very few who can still taste the bile-bubbling disgust of the whole atrocious thing?
The letter on the left appeared in The Daily Mail (5th September 2014). Whether from a genuine reader or not, I think it sums up the appalling state of global geo-politics. The kids in my school yard seemed to employ a similar strategy as they shot and grenaded anything that moved: mass confusion with mass aggression.
The concern is the situation is so insane that instead of inspiring outrage with the masses, it tends to inspire humour. The chortles of a joke not fully understood. It’s difficult for even the hardiest vanguard for war to support this tangled lunacy. Unless you’re an arms dealer, that is, or have lots invested in weapons manufacture and research…
Is it possible to suggest that the constant presence of war – even in those rare seconds when the British forces aren’t involved in some kind of conflict – is enough to permanently remind human beings of their barbaric potential, a sort of perpetual dripping tap? We have war movies, war west end shows, war historians, war monuments, war games, war museums… The list goes on. It has been well and truly embedded into the very fabric of western civilisation. A sort of singular imperialism that has been allowed to creep over us through the books of our intellectuals, the mouths of the politicians, and the glory of legend; like an ever darkening shadow.
What is the sole purpose of a gun?
With the answer still fresh in your mind, ask yourself another question: is it ok to teach children how to shoot them?
In 2011, the BBC revealed that in the UK shotgun licenses had been given out to children as young as 7. With parental permission, children of 16 can join the UK forces, despite not being perceived mature enough to vote, drive a car, or watch a horror film. Some organisations, such as Forces Watch and UNICEF, see this as adopting “child soldiers”, comparing the MoD to regimes like Iran and North Korea. They have also commented on the economic wastage associated with it, detailing up to £94m of unnecessary spending. Even though soldiers need to be 18 to be deployed in operations (this has only recently been changed. Soldiers as young as 17 were deployed in both Kosovo in 1999 and the first Iraq US/UK invasion of 1991. Also, at least twenty 17 year olds are known to have fought in the second Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, The Independent, May 2014), isn’t the concept of children being trained to kill a perverse one? When we add to this that it is far more likely to be soldiers enlisted from working class or disadvantaged families that see ground battle and witness the worst horrors of war, a far more sinister, socioeconomic scenario begins to emerge.
A recent study has suggested that there is a correlation between the young age of soldiers when joining the forces, their lower social class, and the development of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), depression, alcoholism and drug addiction on leaving. This appears to fly in the face of the permanent MoD line that the army is an excellent career choice for school leavers. For many years the film director David Lynch has been working with some of the world’s most desperate and damaged people. His foundation, which employs a simple but extremely effective meditative technique, has managed to turn around the psychological fate of hundreds of thousands of people. This has included over 10,000 US soldiers, returning from the Middle East and suffering from an array of mental and physical health problems. Through meditation, some distance is created between the mind and the culmination of trauma. This space can then be utilised to properly process and to some degree accept the events that led to mental breakdown. It has proven to be exceptionally successful.
What if we were to spin around the fall of events? In other words, offer meditative techniques to children throughout the UK from ages 10 onwards? The schools that have been involved with The David Lynch Foundation in the US have benefitted in a remarkable number of ways, including falls in absenteeism, reduction in violence and rises in academic performance. But also, the children themselves have reported feeling more calm, centred and able to engage with their own decision making processes. After all, if we are happy to accept a slow press-ganging of our children through a complex system of cadets, funded almost entirely by the MoD, then perhaps we can arm them not only with rifles but with a mind capable of deciding for themselves if ‘protecting’ our islands through wars of choice is how they truly want to spend their childhoods.
David Cameron in 2012 stated that the way cadets are funded will be changed. At the moment £26 million is pumped into 261 different schools (three quarters of which are private) that run CCFs (Combined Cadet Forces) through their education facilities. By 2015, there will be 100 more CCFs up and running in state schools, with another 250 to follow, so that, to quote the prime minister, “new horizons” can be opened up to our children leaving comprehensives.
The funding, however, will not be increased, sharing out the £26 million between all 611 schools. This has led to many private and public schools already stating that they will be forced to close down their cadet programs. If private schools slowly retreat from CCFs, it will leave the vast amount of 16 year old cadets going on to a career as full-time soldiers coming from state comprehensives.
It’s quite easy to envision this becoming a dragnet for the MoD, where, if a child is academically under performing, the school, due to its own great stresses, may be tempted to guide that child into the cadets rather than spending more time and resources on him or her. This would then widen even further the gulf between the number of wealthy and disadvantaged entry level soldiers, and our society could find itself developing a self imposed military draft of our most deprived children.