There has been a growing militarisation of British society over the past decade, with soldiers increasingly viewed as some higher form of life.
This militarisation takes many forms. Pax Christi recently drew attention to the visits made to thousands of schools each year. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) admits that the visits are “a powerful tool for facilitating recruitment.”
The excellent organisation Forceswatch pointed out that the army visited 40 per cent of London schools from September 2008 to April 2009, with a disproportionate number of visits to the most disadvantaged areas.
The government has suggested an expansion of cadet forces within schools to encourage the military “spirit” and that ex-soldiers mentor youngsters.
Another sign of the growing profile of the military in society is the charity Help for Heroes. The charity has raised millions of pounds to help out those soldiers returning home wounded from the various conflicts where British troops are deployed. It has high profile support from the Royal, sport, media and dramatic spheres. It does good work and receives incredible levels of publicity but never asks the question why it has to exist?
Why is a charity like Help for Heroes having to provide money to support returning wounded personnel? This is an MOD responsibility, the government sent the soldiers into these conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Something else Help for Heroes does not ask is why are British forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and what of the expanding mission in Libya?
The attitude to Help for Heroes reflects an almost psychic numbing among the public. They see the tragedy of returning wounded military personnel and dig deep to give to a charity that helps out. The charity has laudable aims so receives massive media exposure but why are the questions of justice not being asked, namely why are the troops deployed and being damaged in this way?
At other levels there seems to be an increasing profile for the military in society. The number of times attending football matches and other sporting events there seems to be a special day for the armed forces. So the pitch will be surrounded by marching soldiers before the kick off of a match. There will be a collection for Help for Heroes.
Then there is armed forces day, which seems like a general fest to celebrate an increasingly militaristic culture.
All of these elements are factors in the growing profile of the military in society. The heroic image is reflected in a belief if something needs doing properly then the military are the ones to call into to do it. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair was believed to have a particularly liking for the can do attitude of the military.
A closer look ofcourse at the militaries record over recent decades would ofcourse suggest a somewhat patchwork record. The Northern Ireland conflict, Iraq and Afghanistan can hardly be called overidding successes, indeed many would argue the very opposite. Though in defence of the military, in most of these recent conflicts it has never been set out exactly what the objectives were supposed to be.
Any criticism of the military is generally a taboo in the British media. It is rare for the British army to be criticised for its actions at home or abroad and there is always ready media access given for any soldier who wants to voice his or her opinions regarding equipment shortages.
Once committed to a conflict overseas, any criticism of our boys – who are afterall killing foreign people in their countries in the name of Britain – is considered in terms of betrayal.
The rising cult of militarism could become a dangerous thing. The effects of the myth that if you want something done give it to the military can be seen increasingly in society. Indeed, the government is pushing at an open door with many schools on the subject of military involvement. It is worrying that some schools, particularly in the Catholic sector, seem to be so popular with parents not because of the holistic education they offer but the military style discipline. Some parents it seems would like nothing better than to send their children to military academies.
The politicians too seem to be recognising the danger of the rise of the cult of militarism. It was notable that the Prime Minister seemed to have had enough recently when he exasperatingly suggested that the military chiefs got on with the fighting and left the talking to him.
The politicians no doubt see the danger of the military man or woman being built into some sort of mythical creature who gets things done. Following this construct to the logical conclusion results in the military in the end taking over totally, as has happened in many countries around the world.
Whilst today this country is a long way away from such a scenario, the continued erosion of civil society combined with some of the potential major crisis of the next few years could make it a far more likely happening in the future.
So in that respect the efforts of Mr Cameron to slap down the military chiefs should be welcomed.
People need to open their eyes to what the military are all about and not simply go dewy eyed at the sight of a soldier in uniform. The military deserve support but they are not perfect and must be made accountable for their every action like any other public servant.