In July ForcesWatch launched the Military Out of Schools campaign. Speakers Oskar Castro, a US activist in countering military recruitment, and Ben Griffin, ex-forces and the founder of fledgling Veterans for Peace UK, discussed how young people are militarised and what can be done about it.
US counter-recruitment has developed over the last 10 years to many thousands of individuals and hundreds of organisations. The terms “truth and recruitment” or “alternatives to the military” are increasingly used and recently the National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth was formed to reflect a wider understanding of the problem as one of militarism permeating society and associating values and ideas to it which affect the choices young people make in their lives. As Oskar said, “militarism does not just show up in the classroom when the military recruiter comes, its shows up on your TV, in Hollywood, in your book, magazine, internet, football field.” Through these channels, young people are “turned on to the military in a non-critical way” which the recruiters utilise.
Ben illustrated the significant impact of his early experience of militarism “One of my first memories of my granddad was him bouncing me on his knee showing me his medals from WW2. That’s a very powerful thing and provided me with an example of what an honourable male in our society would do.” Experiences throughout childhood reinforce the idea that a soldier is fighting for freedom, democracy and that it is glorious to die in warfare. “When recruiters come into schools a lot of their job has already been done by the rest of society.”
Find out what works
The movement countering recruitment in US schools has learned to operate subtly, recognising differences between communities and what tactics work best where. Campaigners can access an extensive training manual to help identify and develop their approach.
In recognition that the economic or “poverty” draft means that many young people feel they have no option but to enlist, a resource was developed to bring together many different post-high-school options, helping young people look “beyond the military”. A variety of film resources, with testimony from individuals who have served, help young people to ask the questions that the military recruiters don’t want them to ask and to empower them, their parents and teachers with knowledge and access to a more informed choice.
A significant resource is the community of like-minded veterans working for peace, particularly from recent and current conflicts, who are able to access schools more easily and provide an authoritative argument based on experience.
Stop militarism of UK kids
The US military have open and ongoing access to schools. In the UK the problem may be less visible but the armed forces visit thousands of schools each year. They offer school presentation teams, youth teams, “careers advisors” and lessons plans. There are plans to expand cadet forces within state schools and for ex-soldiers to mentor youngsters in schools.
The Military Out of Schools campaign aims to create awareness of, and debate around, how the military access youngsters in UK schools, and to develop resources and strategies to challenge it. Ben likened militarism to racism. “The right thing to do is to confront it, maybe subtley, but it needs to be brought up. We can’t just let it flow all around us and say I am OK because I am a pacifist or a Christian and not engaging with it. We need to start engaging with it and countering it on a daily basis”