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Armed Forces Day 2022 targets children and glamourises warfare

Children handling real guns on a stand staffed by uniformed soldiers at the Armed Forces Day National Event in Scarborough

Armed Forces Day 2022 targets children and glamourises warfare

The Peace Pledge Union has slammed Armed Forces Day events which have seen small children invited to handle real weapons as if they were toys.

Armed Forces Day was marked yesterday (25 June) with a National Event in Scarborough. Over 150 other events took place around the UK, either on the day or in the week leading up to it. More than a quarter of the events listed on the Armed Forces Day official website included details of activities focused on children.

The National Event in Scarborough saw queues of children as young as 6 or 7 encouraged to handle guns and other military equipment. Army cadets as young as 12 marched through the town in military uniform, there was an "army assault course" for children on the beach and information about the armed forces was presented in a wildly one-sided way, giving an impression of war and armed force as glamorous, exicting and ethical.

During the day, the PPU published photos of what was going on in Scarborough - with the children's faces blurred out - triggering horrified and concerned reactions on social media. Similar scenes were seen at other Armed Forces Day events around the UK.

While the number of PPU members in Scarborough was limited by the rail strike, other PPU members and allies planned protests and vigils in their own towns and cities, including Manchester, Huddersfield and Bury St Edmunds. In London, PPU members handed out leaflets outside the Ministry of "Defence", before joining other peace groups outside Downing Street as they protested against war in Ukraine.

This is the first Armed Forces Day since a string of revelations about the levels of abuse of young recruits in the British military. The PPU accused military leaders of using the day to sweep difficult questions under the carpet.

Research by Child Rights International found that one in 29 of the young women aged 16 or 17 who joined the British army in 2021 had formally reported being raped or sexually assaulted before the end of the year. At the Army Foundation College - where 16- and 17-year-old recruits are trained - there were 62 reports of abuse and ill-treatment between 2014 and 2020.

"Armed Forces Day is an example of everyday militarism," said Rachel Melly, a member of PPU's elected Council, who lives in North Yorkshire.

Rachel, who travelled to Scarborough yesterday and witnessed the Armed Forces Day National Event, added, "After a year that has seen a string of revelations about the abuse of young recruits, we are simply expected to ignore the reality and cheer the insitutions that have allowed this to happen. This is a massive insult to the victims and survivors of military abuse. That's why I am protesting in Scarborough today."

Leaflets handed out by PPU members pointed out that the UK armed forces - like armed forces around the world - target the poorest and most vulnerable young people for recruitment, deny them the most basic rights and send them to fight and kill other poor and vulnerable people elsewhere in the world.

They declared, "Armed forces are abusive institutions. They should be challenged, not ccelebrated."

In Swansea, parent and poet Becky Lowe said, "Targeting young children with these celebrations feels especially cynical". She added, "There's a danger that they will see a life in the military as glamorous or exciting without appreciating the full horrors."

She pointed out that events in Ukraine, as well as in Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen, were showing the devastating impact of war. She said, "As a taxpayer, I'd rather the resources being used to promote Armed Forces Day were redicted to encourage children to learn about practical ways to learn about building a more peaceful, fair and less divided world."

As the British section of War Resisters' International, the Peace Pledge Union works with people around the world who are resisting war and militarism in their own countries and contexts. In recent months, the PPU has kept up regular contact with peace activists in Russia and Ukraine who are challening invasion and war.

Campaigns against everyday militarism have already had positive effects at local level. For example, in Leicester the local authorities have prevented the armed forces from inviting people under 16 to handle weapons, following a campaign by local residents. The PPU is supporting groups and individuals elsehwere who are campaigning for similar policy changes.

The PPU is working with local groups as they prepare to resist events in July that present children with a glamorised image of war, including the Wales Air Show, the Fairford Tattoo and the Farnborough Air Show.


Members of the Peace Pledge Union pledge to reject war and to tackle its causes. Join us to resist militarism!