On Saturday 27 August the Grassmarket in Edinburgh took on a different aspect than the usual Saturday market. Instead of stalls offering bread, cakes and jams there were armoured vehicles to play on and army recruiters offering children opportunities to play with deadly weapons and clamber up a pop up climbing wall. It was seemingly all good fun, an opportunity, as the MOD puts it, for people to show their support for the troops. The day kicked off with a parade down the Royal Mile. The pipes were skirling as old soldiers and regiments in their finest kilts and bear skin caps boomed as people lined the pavements to gawk at the spectacle. But we were there too with the Scottish Peace Network and Quakers holding banners that read “No More Wars” and “Let Our Love for humanity speak louder than the drums of war”.
Boys as young as six took aim with automatic weapons that can fire multiple rounds of deadly ammunition. They clambered over tanks and had a go at the camouflaged quad bike. These “entertainments” were offered by army recruiters, all part of what the MOD called the “steady drip drip drip” of positive images of the military that it aims to expose young people to before actually recruiting them at age 16.
The UK is one of only nineteen countries that still recruit under 18’s. But they don’t tell them the reality of war. The truth is that under 18 recruits were twice as likely to be killed in Afghanistan. That’s because 16 & 17 year old recruits are mostly funnelled into the artillery where they are more likely to see combat and be wounded or killed. They don’t tell them that they will be locked into contracts for up to 6 years with no way out. And they don’t tell them they are more likely to come out with PTSD, to have problems with binge drinking, violence and relationships and to go to prison than those recruited at 18.
The Peace and Justice Centre, along with Forces Watch, Pax Christi and Veterans for Peace is working to counter the MODs narrative of military adventure and its slick marketing to children. A letter to The Independent yesterday signed by P&J Coordinator Brian Larkin and other campaigners said: “Many of today’s events are packaged as “family fun”, with military vehicles and weaponry to entice young people, and cadet and armed forces careers marketing to recruit them. War is not family entertainment.” “Rather than institutionalising public support for the armed forces we should stop selling war to children through sanitised celebration of the military and the promotion of “military ethos” in schools. It is unacceptable for the UK to be the only country in the EU to still recruit 16-year-olds into the armed forces, defying the growing international consensus against child recruitment.”
BBC’s Reporting Scotland evening news also mentioned our presence along the parade route and included a short clip of P&J Coordinator Brian Larkin saying “War is not family entertainment. At the stalls here there are 8 year old boys playing with automatic weapons. We think that’s inappropriate. What message does that send?” The reporter concludes saying “Demonstrators argue Armed Forces Days mask the reality of serving in the military.”
Events like this were held all across the UK for the fifth year running in a concerted effort by the MOD to drum up support for the military. It’s part of a PR offensive designed to burnish the military’s image at a time when the public is tired of senseless wars in foreign lands. But in several cities around the UK peace activists were there too saying “War is not family entertainment” for that is what the recruiters, in a cynical effort to groom young people with stories of adventure are offering.
Anyone in Edinburgh on 30 August can find out more about this topic by coming along to our Just Festival Conversation on “Militarization of Children and Young People” with David Gee, co-founder of Forces Watch, Mairi Campbell-Jack, Quaker Scottish Parlimentary Liaison and Second Leiutenant Ryan Mounsey a fomer Cadet. We”l be asking the question “Does the military have a place in schools?” and “Is there ever a justification for recruiting children into the armed services?”. This is a ticketed event. Book your tickets here.