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10 reasons not to support Armed Forces Day

Today we are encouraged to celebrate Armed Forces Day. But far from celebrating these institutions, we should be speaking out against them — SYMON HILL gives 10 good reasons why

1 The armed forces uphold class power

The forces target the poorest young people for recruitment. Repeated leaks from the Ministry of Defence make clear that this is a deliberate strategy. A 2017 document stated that the army’s target recruit was “16-24, primarily C2DE. Mean household income 10K.”

In contrast, 49 per cent of army officers went to fee-paying schools (compared to 7 per cent of the population). In effect, the armed forces require working-class people to salute upper and upper middle class people and call them “sir.”

2 The armed forces uphold racism and colonialism

Recent months have seen strings of allegations of racism by former personnel. An MoD report in 2019 admitted to high levels of bullying in the army, navy and air force, especially aimed at women and black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

This is no coincidence. Removing the human aversion to killing involves dehumanising the enemy and implying that some people’s lives are worth less than others.

Military rhetoric glosses over the role of British troops in colonial aggression. Sarri Bater, anti-racist activist and member of the Peace Pledge Union, urges us to consider “the history, assumptions and injustice we are reproducing by celebrating Armed Forces Day.”

3 Britain has more troops than firefighters and paramedics combined

British armed forces include 193,980 personnel (as of April). Imagine if these people’s skills were deployed within civilian services to tackle problems such as pandemics, poverty and climate change.

4 Britain is the only country in Europe to recruit 16-year-olds into the armed forces

Two years before you can watch a violent film, you can be trained to kill. While recruits cannot be deployed to the front line until they are 18, they are trained in preparation. After turning 18, they are committed to staying in the forces until their 22nd birthday, bound to a contract they signed before reaching the legal age of adulthood.

5 Military training is an abusive process

Military training conditions recruits to obey orders without question. It also aims to remove the natural aversion that people feel towards killing other humans. Recruits regularly report being punched, kicked or otherwise assaulted during training, despite this being illegal.

PPU member and former soldier Wayne Sharrocks says, “The fear of disobeying or questioning orders is instilled in recruits... Any deviation from these orders in the early stages of training is met by punishment of the whole group.”

Between 2014 and 2017, there were 50 formal allegations of abuse and ill-treatment at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, where 16- and 17-year-old recruits are sent for training. A similar situation in a civilian college might well lead to it being closed down.

6 Armed forces recruits are denied basic rights

Armed forces personnel are not permitted to join a trade union or even to write to their MP to express a political opinion.

After their first six months, recruits are obliged to remain in the forces for four years. In theory, they can be discharged if they develop a conscientious objection to war. This almost never happens in practice. In 2011, Michael Lyons was imprisoned for seven months after he developed a conscientious objection but was turned down for discharge from the navy.

7 The armed forces are allowed to run their own criminal trials and police force

Imagine if a supermarket manager accused of mistreating junior staff was tried by a jury of managers from his own company. This is effectively what happens in the armed forces.

In 2018, a trial of army instructors accused of abusing teenage recruits collapsed because the Military Police had made no arrests until two years after receiving dozens of reports of abuse. They blamed this partly on “more urgent enquiries,” suggesting they don’t regard investigating the abuse of 16-year-olds as a priority.

8 87 per cent of armed forces personnel have not been involved in tackling Covid-19

At the beginning of the pandemic, some troops were thankfully diverted to building hospitals and delivering supplies. But when figures were produced, they made clear that less than 13 per cent of forces personnel were either involved in tackling the pandemic or on stand-by to do so. Other troops continued to drop bombs in Iraq, train Saudi forces attacking civilians in Yemen and stir up military tension through Nato exercises.

Let’s celebrate everyone who has helped to tackle the pandemic. Let’s not allow the armed forces to misuse the pandemic to give a misleading impression of their role.

9 The British armed forces produce as much carbon as six million cars

A new report from Scientists for Global Responsibility found that the military produce around 11 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. They conducted their research despite “a lack of transparency” on the part of the MoD, who publish no assessments of the environmental impact of the armed forces.

10 Forces personnel are routinely abandoned to poverty and ill health when they leave

Around 13,000 veterans were estimated to be homeless in the UK in 2019. Veterans have higher than average rates of unemployment and mental ill-health. Like many others, they have been badly affected by austerity policies, but pro-military commentators rarely speak out against cuts to the welfare state.

Militarism and poverty follow each other around in never-ending circles. Armed forces recruit people from poverty, fuel poverty elsewhere through warfare, and dump people back into poverty when they leave.

These realities expose the hollowness of rhetoric about forces personnel being “heroes.” In reality, “support our boys” means “support our generals and arms dealers.”

For more on Armed Forces Day and how to challenge it, please visit the Peace Pledge Union website: www.ppu.org.uk.

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