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Army Cadet Force is a valuable source of high calibre recruits to the regular forces and provides a military footprint within the country.
Baroness Seccombe, Shadow Minister for Education.
An attempt is being made at the present time to introduce - into our schools the military spirit and the military system; to make them not schools for culture …but primarily for the instruction of people how to kill their fellow men, and to avoid being killed by them.
What I wish to bring home to you teachers is the imperative necessity of a counter-movement being set on foot without delay, because the enemy have stolen a march on us; have captured the schools of the richer classes; have introduced their propaganda into the universities; and, if we do not take care and attempt to repel these attacks, and keep our programme before the eyes of the public, and get it into the Press and magazines, and have it clearly and boldly stated in the House of Commons, we shall find our peace work checked and hindered for many a long year to come.
The above are not my words. They are taken from a report of a conference of teachers at a Peace Congress in 1908. The speakers are referring to militarism in schools, specifically Cadet Forces in schools.
Although some have campaigned against Cadet Forces in schools for almost a century they still endure. We received a message in the PPU office from a concerned parent of a girl at secondary school just a few months ago: ‘Recently, at an assembly, students, including those in Year 8 (12-13 years), were encouraged to join the Combined Cadet Force. They were told that they would be able to learn how to “handle a rifle”. CCF members have the chance to go on camps and do outdoor activities, and work for a BTEC First Diploma in Public Service, while other pupils don’t have these opportunities.’
Militarism in schools is not a new issue but it does appear to have a new prominence. Amongst the rash of advertisements on television aimed at persuading us to join the armed forces is one that encourages young people to join the Cadets.
In addition to exposure on prime time TV is the schools inspector’s recent endorsement of the Cadet Forces (David Bell 17/1/05). He maintains the actions of the armed forces in Iraq ‘continue to stand as a beacon of excellence in living out the timeless values of duty, honour, courage and sacrifice’ and that young people can benefit from this kind of approach by joining Cadet Forces. ‘It’s important too that all young people with leadership potential benefit from the kinds of opportunities which, at present, tend to be restricted to independent schools which run Combined Cadet Forces’.
Learning heroism and leadership from the armed forces is an old idea. It endures despite repeated examples of torture (surely an example of cowardice, not heroism), barbarity and failure. In the 1908 Peace Congress teachers were encouraged to ‘Tell them [young people] of the possibility of an heroic life being led in civic paths… civic acts of heroism performed by persons to whom was awarded no Victoria Cross performed by miners, performed by doctors, performed by nurses, performed by the vast multitude of persons now nameless and obscure. I venture to think that if you teachers for it is to you I am speaking above all if you rest your case largely on these grounds, if you appeal to the ideal, then the results will be more practical than otherwise.’
Duty, honour, courage, sacrifice, adventure and leadership can, and should, all be fostered outside a military environment. They do not have to be developed in an environment that also encourages acceptance of force, threats, violence, competition and rigid hierarchy.
Cadet Forces are valued by some for their ability to develop personal qualities in young people. They also have another role, however: recruitment. According to Baroness Seccombe in 2002‘The Army Cadet Force is a valuable source of high calibre recruits to the regular forces and provides a military footprint within the country. It is significant to note that in the year 1999-2000, 20.2% of young soldiers and apprentices to the regular Army came from the Army Cadet Force.’
According to the select committee on the 2001 Armed Forces Bill ‘We believe it continues to be important to recruit young people straight from school, including at the age of 16; if they are not caught at this point they are likely to take up other careers and be permanently lost to the armed forces’.
If such a large proportion of military recruits come from Cadet Forces it is no wonder the military continue to focus so much attention on schoolchildren. As Mike Searle, former president of the children’s clothes company Kids-R-Us, and expert on marketing to children says: ‘If you own this child at an early age, you can own this child forever’.
Children who have problems at school are the most likely to enlist in the Army. The military authorities understand this so are more than happy to ‘help’ where possible. According to a recent study reported in The Guardian, ‘a majority of army recruits came from a broken home, or deprived background, or left school with no qualifications.’
This sheds light on another way in which the military gets into schools. A programme called Skill Force, funded by the MoD, operates in over 100 schools throughout the UK. Children who have difficulty at school and are ‘identified as responding positively to a more vocational curriculum’ are taught by former military instructors for one or two days per week. These young people are prime targets for military recruitment.
Whether it is via Cadets or Skill Force there can be no doubt that the military are keen on engaging schoolchildren in what they do. Unlike almost all other European countries, and against the wishes of the UN amongst others, Britain still recruits children into the armed forces. Even though 16-year-olds cannot vote, or even buy alcohol, they are encouraged to join-up. The encouragement starts long before they even reach 16.
The 1908 Peace Congress highlighted ‘the imperative necessity of a counter-movement being set on foot without delay’ to counter rising militarism in schools. To do this requires more information on how the military are involved in schools. If you are a teacher, student or parent with experience of military involvement in schools please get in touch with details. Perhaps, with your help, we can ensure more young people take up other careers and are permanently lost to the armed forces.