Children are not soldiers
This November, activists from all around the world are taking action against the militarisation of young people in their countries, cities and towns.
This is perhaps a good time to consider the questions and issues as they apply to the UK.
How many men went cheerfully, even eagerly to war in 1914. How few returned. This appetite for war was created by years of military indoctrination of the young, “children ardent for some desperate glory” as Wilfred Owen put it.
The same thing is happening today. The armed forces are present in children’s lives from a tender age, along with arms manufacturers organising activities, funding courses, work placements and scholarships.
The government encourages and gives grants for cadet forces. If the sales pitch in the classroom is anything like the TV adverts all the supposed advantages of an armed services career will be stressed: skills training, teamwork, travel, character building, and the hero status of anyone in uniform.
Perhaps they are not so keen to talk about post traumatic stress disorder, referrals for which have risen by 70 per cent as the effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan filter through, or the problems veterans have of readjusting to normal life, or the above average suicide rates.
On armed forces days I have seen children as young as five or six encouraged to play in military vehicles and handle heavy automatic weapons, pointing the laser sights into the crowd.
We hear of child soldiers in Africa but according to UNICEF anyone below 18 is a child soldier, This is the norm in Europe, 17 in the USA, whereas here children of 15 and 7 months can join up. Of course we need soldiers to defend our country, but the decision should be made by adults, able to understand what is involved and also whether a particular war in a far flung, impoverished third world country is a really matter of self defence, or of self interest.
In Iraq alone over a million have been killed, at least 90 per cent civilians and of these almost half children. Many have died at sea, their parents vainly seeking refuge in the countries responsible for their suffering.
Should we be grooming our children to destroy the homes and lives of other children? Are those responsible for our children’s education really exercising a duty of care?
George Miller, Oswestry Coalition for Peace