Unarmed Forces Day

IssueApril 2009
Comment by Emily Johns , Milan Rai

Peace News invites local and national peace groups in Wales, Scotland and England to join us in celebrating “Unarmed Forces Day” on 27 June, when the Ministry of Defence intends to celebrate “Armed Forces Day” (with a service and a fly-past at Chatham Docks, and parades in other towns and cities). “Unarmed Forces Day” will have two main messages.

Celebrate nonviolence!

Our first message is that we want to celebrate people who have used and are using nonviolent means to seek justice and peace in the world.

People like Rachel Corrie, killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to protect a Palestinian home from destruction. People like Tom Hurndall, shot by an Israeli soldier while accompanying Palestinian children.

People like Gandhi (and “the Muslim Gandhi”, Abdul Ghaffar Khan) and Martin Luther King, who led campaigns of mass nonviolent disruption to overcome injustice.

People all over the world who are using nonviolent means to improve human rights, protect the environment, end discrimination, prevent war and bring about justice. We can hold our own events to celebrate nonviolence.

A cruel trick

The second message of Unarmed Forces Day is that “Armed Forces Day” should be abolished. It is not really about supporting Britain’s armed forces: it is a device to try to build public support for the two unpopular wars Britain is involved in.

There is already massive public support for Britain’s armed forces: a January 2008 poll for the army found that 95% of Britons said they “respect” soldiers; around 90% said that they “admire” the army or see soldiers as “the epitome of heroism”.

It’s the wars that are unpopular, not the military. Two thirds of Britons do not support in the war in Afghanistan (see p2) and a March 2007 YouGov poll found that 59% of Britons wanted troops withdrawn from Iraq “more or less immediately”.

The government is not really supportive of Britain’s armed forces. At the end of February, lance corporal Johnson Beharry, badly injured in Iraq in incidents that won him the Victoria Cross, and still suffering mental anguish, said: “Those who are still serving get some form of help for combat stress but even those who are serving don’t get enough support.” He called the lack of care “disgraceful”.

Unity in diversity

Different groups will respond to Armed Forces Day in different ways. Some may focus on the issue of recruitment, and particularly the recruitment of teenagers. (The March ComRes poll found that 71% of Britons thought that the minimum age for joining the armed forces should be increased from 16 to 18.)

Two messages that the peace movement ought to be able to unite around, however, are: the power of nonviolence, and the need to expose Armed Forces Day as a device to gain support for the government’s unpopular wars.