Sunday, April 06, 2008
Controversial plans for pupils in comprehensive schools to sign up for military drills and weapons training are being backed by Gordon Brown in an attempt to improve the relationship between the public and the armed forces.
A major review of the military's role in British society says that encouraging more state secondary school pupils to join the cadet corps would improve discipline among teenagers while helping to improve the public perception of the army, navy and air force.
Forgive me first of all, for finding this ominous development funny. Like many of the kids in the Proddy ratholes of Northern Ireland, I was briefly in the Air Training Corps - which is to the Royal Air Force what the Army Cadets are to the British Army - as a teenager. As a result, I can only giggle at the idea that exposure to this kind of silliness is likely to 'improve discipline'. They certainly did like to march us about in various directions - you know the drill, "left, right, left right, turning about, about turn ... left, right, left right ... right wheel", etc. And the shoe-polishing, and the lectures about NATO, and the shouting, my God, the shouting - how they loved to bellow! The higher the rank you had, the more you could shout. I think there was a chart depicting the rank-to-decible ration - or did I dream it? I suppose if you were already being raised in a controlling, militaristic environment, all this would seem natural. I'm afraid in my case I rather undermined morale by breaking into tears when I couldn't put the gun together or when some flight sergeant bawled in my face. This was often quite deliberate, as I could turn it on and off like a sprinkler. Luckily, I escaped before civilian life started to seem too constraining - imagine if I'd gone up a rank to corporal and was only allowed to shout at someone in the confines of ATC base? Imagine if I tried to pull rank on the teacher? Although I suspect many of the older members of this institution were seriously damaged, controlling people prone to seething rages and domestic violence, the children who do best in this kind of environment are conscientious, obedient and serious. I was lazy, sneaky and whimsical, more of a barbarian and a brute than an agent of civilization. If I had been given successful weapons training, there might well have been carnage like If... at the end of it all.
That to one side, it is plain to see that the government are onto something here. As I have suggested, they know full well that martial values are in terminal decline. The kids don't respect war any more. Instead of reading comic books about killing Jerry, they're playing computer games about car-jacking (which is why the US military recruits video gamers - the next war of conquest will be called Operation Grand Theft Auto). Instead of spit-polishing shoes, they're wearing hoodies and smoking weed. I've seen them do it. Or they're bunking off school to protest against the war. So, the government keeps trying out new intiatives, one after the other. The MoD targeted seven-year-olds with their propaganda drives. They've particularly targeted kids failed by the education system. One of their cunning tricks was to change the order "At Ease" to "Chill". They even paid the marketing agency Kid's Connection, whose evil remit is to specifically manipulate children before they can develop a sophisticated defense, to come up with ways of selling war to the yoof, and came up with some intriguing ideas for the class room:
Part of a module entitled ‘Promoting peace and security in Iraq’ it instructs classes to hold a vote on the war, and to produce a piece writing arguing for or against the withdrawal of soldiers from the Gulf.
The teachers’ notes state: "Most students will vote against the ongoing maintenance of troops. Ask students to justify their opinions."
It continues: "Throughout the lesson, students should come to understand that this activity is representative of democracy on a micro scale and by voting, they have exercised their democratic right, a right that is newly available to Iraqis."
How fortunate that the NUT asserted the law in this case. The current plans will have cadet structures set up in comprehensive schools across the country, which will expose children to arms training, target practise, and a dose of rugged virility and British fair play. The NUT has pointed out that previous efforts at recruitment in schools disproportionately target poor areas, almost as if the government considers working class people particularly expendable. The government's desire to glamourise international gun crime, particularly in poor areas where local gun crime is a problem, is just one of the little oddities of 'war on terror' culture. It also reflects one of the ways in which the projection of violence overseas filters back into the brutalisation of domestic culture.