Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Better off on the dole

You might remember Gordon Brown's batty idea to introduce weapons training into schools. There has, of course, been a sustained effort to get the kids interested in military careers, the better to make up for the shortfall as recruitment nosedived during the 'war on terror' (it's been recovering of late, though I don't know how significant this recovery is). The focus on young people makes strategic sense. In 2006, 14,000 people left the British armed forces, but only 12,000 signed up - and most of the new recruits were teenagers. Last night at a Stop the War Coalition meeting, I learned a bit more about what this effort to draft the kids now entails. For it seems that the British Army is now placing stalls at further education colleges on enrolment day. And what they do when there is offer students a £5,000 bursary to sign up for the army there and then. They do not immediately join, for they are only sixteen, but rather complete their two years of study at college, and are then committed to four years of military service. This makes Britain the only country in Europe that targets sixteen year olds for military recruitment. And they don't even necessarily stick to their own rules in this process, as it was revealed back in 2007 that the British government had sent soldiers under the age of eighteen into southern Iraq.

Now, this is not an open and accountable situation in which those kids have reasonable access to the materials they would need to make such a decision. The Joseph Rowntree Trust reported last year, following a study of what young people are exposed to by army recruiters, that potential recruits are subject to a barrage of propaganda extolling possible career opportunities, training, travelling the world, etc. Young people are just not informed of the risks of a spell in the army. These would include, but are not restricted to: 1) death or injury, since one in ten members of the British armed forces in Afghanistan end up either dead or seriously injured, while suicide levels in the army have peaked in the period of the 'war on terror'; 2) homelessness, as all the promise of a career and training results in two thirds of people under the care of Shelter being ex-service personnel, while the MoD itself estimates that a quarter of all homeless people in the UK are ex-military; 3) prison, as one in ten inmates are ex-service personnel, and more British soldiers are in prison or on probation than presently service in Afghanistan; and 4) mental illness, in which the development of PTSD among other maladies is likely to be poorly treated if at all. Somehow, being indoctrinated into a machinery of death has a propensity for damaging people, physically and mentally, ruining their lives. Who would have thought it? No one, obviously, who relied upon British Army propaganda or, at one remove, the inspiring homilies of Andy McNab and his epigones.

We have a situation in which youth unemployment is sky-rocketing. Unemployment among the under-25s was reaching a million in August, and has probably surpassed it by now, giving an unemployment rate of almost 20%. Kids who know they've got that to look forward to are being shown images of the army that tell them they can be engineers, cooks, senior office workers. Today's Metro had an advert for the British army that visualised these seductive career opportunities by depicting a series of medals shaped as a blackberry, a mobile phone, a notebook, etc. No doubt every other newspaper in Britain had similar advertisements. No doubt we'll be seeing these on the tube, and on buses. No doubt the stalls in educational establishments, freshers fayres and so on, will carry the same material. If people are desperate enough to believe this, then they immediately ratchet up their chances of dying young, being permanently injured, ending up in jail or on the streets - not to mention the fact that they will also become, quite against any better instincts they may have, accessories to murder as the reserve army of labour becomes the reserve army of conquest.

The other side of this is resistance. The NUT has been running a campaign to oppose military recruitment in schools, on the grounds that it is the job of educators to look after children, not manipulate them into joining the army. The UCU has, I hear, joined them in this. School students have themselves been campaigning on this issue. This now becomes a particularly urgent matter since, as General McChrystal has testified, the only way this war could be won for NATO would be if another 40,000 troops were poured in. The Senlis Council has recently reported that the Taliban now has a serious, permanent and active presence in 80% of Afghanistan, in addition to whatever base it has in the North-West Frontier Province. That means that the war, if it is allowed to continue, will become bloodier, and will consume more and more able bodies. Those bodies definitely look pretty in their little boxes, and the ceremonies they have for them are obviously quite moving in a certain light. But what's the point of it? To impose a client regime that even the war powers have stopped pretending is anything but a corrupt and brutal confederation of drug-dealing pro-American warlords? As miserable as life is on Job Seekers Allowance or on minimum wage, and as much as the yearning for adventure militates against such a bleak prospect, these kids would still be much better off on the dole.