Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The dark side of militarism

This is an article published in the Canary, 14th November, if you read this you may also like to watch Dan Snow's BBC documentary on "Shell Shock"

A new film called War School: The Battle for Britain’s Children challenges the stories we tell ourselves about the military and war. The film:
reveals how government policies are targeting ever younger children for future recruitment into the armed forces
Mic Dixon’s documentary is essential viewing for anyone interested in the increasing militarisation of British life. War School was released to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the armistice that officially ended the First World War.

It’s not really remembrance

War School successfully weaves together different voices critical of militarism. It begins with a quote from former special forces member Ben Griffin, who says:
 "They call it the remembrance period. But there is actually no remembrance going on at all. It’s the opposite of remembrance. It’s concealment – concealment of the true nature of war and militarism."

The darkness ‘behind the curtain’

Later in the film, Griffin notes:
It’s like that scene in the Wizard of Oz… Where you look behind the curtain and you see it’s all, just all, a load of shit. It’s more disgusting than that, you know. They look behind the curtain: there is a silly little man there. But when you look behind the curtain in Baghdad… it’s pretty dark.

A state of permanent war

Ian Cobain, journalist and author, tells the viewers that:
"Official secrecy has the result of distorting our understanding of our recent history. And as a consequence we tend to think of ourselves as being a largely peaceful people."
Cobain continues:
"Over the last 100 years, not a single year has gone by when we haven’t been at war somewhere or another. That’s not true of anybody else. It’s not true of the French, or the Germans, or the Russians. It’s not even true of the Americans: there were no wars in the Carter years. Only the British are perpetually at war."


War School questions the nature of remembrance. “I find it quite a hard question to answer… what does remembrance mean?” Griffin asks. Later, he says the build-up to Remembrance Sunday is “longer than Christmas”. During the film, we hear of the pain, guilt and anguish soldiers experience as a result of what they have seen and what they have done. But this is a phenomenon that is rarely, if ever, discussed during the year – let alone during Armed Forces Day or Remembrance Sunday.
Some of the most powerful moments are the brief testimonies from various soldiers that are peppered throughout the film. One soldier speaks of being ordered to bury the bodies of 24 men who had been killed by communist “terrorists” in Malaya. He described taking the women and children away, and sticking them in a “concentration camp” after burning their homes. He later discovered that it was, in fact, a British unit which removed all 24 men from their families and executed them. The United Kingdom waged a brutal counter-insurgency against communists and others in Malaya from 1948 to 1960. But this war, like so many others, is rarely mentioned in popular discussions.

Quakers for peace

Quakers feature prominently in War School. Quakers have a long and illustrious history of peace activism. Quaker activist Marigold Bentley says that they are constantly being “criticised” and “undermined” and also “ridiculed” and “marginalised” by the press.
The film also charts the slow discovery by Quakers that the increased militarisation within British schools is part of a wider strategy orchestrated at the nation state level. And not, as some may have first believed, a ‘natural development’ without any central planning.
Sam Walton, a Quaker peace activist, explains that:
This new type of militarism isn’t nebulous, it isn’t a conspiracy theory. And if you look at government green papers, government white papers, they very clearly spell out that they are trying to influence society to support the military.
What really shocked me when I started reading these documents was how brazen they were about it. And how brazen they were about prioritising the interests of the armed forces getting recruits, getting the public to fund the armed forces over pretty much anything else.

Get them while they’re young

War School also makes the point that “it’s not true anymore” that if you’re “not in education, training or employment then the army is saving you”. In fact, research conducted by medical charity Medact shows just the opposite. According to a 2016 Medact report:
"the risks associated with an armed forces career are greater for those recruited under the age of 18 than they are for those recruited as adults. They are more likely to die or be injured in action, and to suffer mental health problems such as alcohol abuse, self-harm and suicide."

When we were soldiers

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the soldiers’ testimonies is their frankness about their way of thinking when they were soldiers. In particular, their desire to kill and the lack of satisfaction they felt when they didn’t. It’s important to note that these people are not psychopaths. On the contrary, it is quite clear from the interviews that they have a moral compass and that they are filled with remorse and regret. But of course, that changes nothing for those on the receiving end of these wars.
The film is as poignant as it is straightforward. And while its contents may not surprise anyone actively engaged in challenging or participating in the militarist project, that’s almost certainly a very small percentage of the overall population.  As the film notes towards the end, “the armed forces make around 11,000 visits to secondary schools and colleges each year”. It seems only fair then that this is balanced out. This film should be required viewing in every school and college in the country.

PH comment:  I spoke at the November AM about our Prime Minister laying wreathes on the graves of the first and last men to die in the 1914 -18 war.  This action attempts to "box" the war into just a four year period when the causes of the war go back centuries.  Spanish Flu, which broke out towards the end of the war among weakened soldiers and civilians and killed more people than died of the violence of war, wrought havoc with all the populations that had been involved; while the punishing final settlement which the victors forced onto the vanquished became one of the offenses that built up to the outbreak of Word War II. 

Disruptive pupils in schools

On the 12th November BBC TV News carried a feature that informed us that many schools, including 12 in Wales, are now using "isolation units" to contain youngsters whose behaviour is disruptive in class.

The isolation units are plywood structures that look like the booths used to provide privacy for voters. The young people have to sit in these structures facing a blank wall.

On the 13th November a separate story was featured in which BBC reporter Ed Thomas visited a school in Manchester. This is a privately owned school contracted to provide places for disruptive young people excluded from mainstream education. 

I was very concerned by the first story, particularly because it applied to Wales. I have written to Kirsty Williams as the Welsh Education minister, my constituency AM and a personal acquaintance of around 20 years. I await her reply.  I have also tried to ask the BBC  the background to how these features suddenly become news, however, it is very difficult to contact the BBC without using social media.  [This is a further indication of the way that A.I. is gaining traction everywhere, social media produces data, email requires work to turn it into data. By this route social media becomes essential to the BBC. Who now has the upper hand in any transaction? PH. see the blog on A.I.]

Has the number of young people being disruptive grown alarmingly? Is their behaviour much worse? If so what research is being undertaken to find out why? Are schools less able to cope with disruptive behaviour? Does this relate to the absurd Austerity policy that has done so much harm to UK infrastructure? Is isolation a technique that has any benefit for the child, or is it purely containment? Is it being used as a form of punishment? 

The young people featured are "children of God", each with the potential for divinity, might this response to their reactions damage that potential? If there is an increase in young people with behavioural problems what effect is this having on the rest of our education system? 

I have no expertise in Education but I am sure that we have a high proportion of Friends who do.  Is this a conversation in which we should be urgently involved? 

Wales is so much more progressive than England and Welsh education has separated itself from that of England to some extent.  Should Welsh education be exploring alternatives, making improvements, showing a better way? 

This has been circulated among the Wales Focus Group 14th November 2018.

Thursday, 1 November 2018


I am very grateful to be living in Wales, where the Welsh Government, as usual, so much more progressive than the UK Government, has placed a moratorium on allowing permissions for fracking. However as a UK citizen as well as a Welsh one, I am horrified that the UK Government is supporting another fossil extraction industry at the time when it is so clear that fossil fuels should be left in the ground and all resources available for energy use should be put to increasing those industries that use renewable energy. One week after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change launched its latest report, telling us we have just 12 years to limit climate catastrophe, we have a government that is simultaneously massively rewarding the fossil fuel industry while jailing those trying to stand in its way. Climate change is the greatest threat to mankind at this time, creating the pressures that cause wars and population migration. I really wish that our Government will get real and start thinking about the well being of future generations instead of getting mired down in internal party jockeying for position, unfortunately our country has to sit on the sidelines until we get the next chance for a change of UK Government.

On the 1st November the Guardian carried a piece indicating that a lot of conservative MPs, particularly those with fracking sites in their constituencies are getting cold feet about this crazy industry.  The Government raised the level of tremor from 0.5 to 1 to give the frackers more lee-way, unfortunately this higher level was very quickly exceeded  by Cuadrilla in the Ribble Valley.  I cannot help but expect that the whole industry will collapse long before it produces any profit, and the Government will be left to clear up abandoned sites.

I cannot see anyway in which fracking makes sense, but still we lurch forward with it.


Recently the BBC 4 "Costing the Earth" programme featured plastic pollution.  There were two encouraging sections in the programme, firstly Biome Bioplastics talked about producing plastic products from vegetable materials. 
What will it take to create a good plastic system? They quoted a representative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
"We need to eliminate the plastics we don’t need and innovate the ones we need in order to make sure that all of them can be safely reused, recycled or composted. And we need to make sure that everything that we use is circulated so that it never becomes waste or pollution”
Secondly ReNew ELP which is a part of Armstrong Energy talked about re-cycling plastics into their component parts.

"Our technology provides an innovative solution to the global problem of end-of-life plastic disposal

ReNew ELP is at the forefront of a new, cutting-edge technology that can convert end-of-life plastic waste into refined synthetic hydrocarbon products, including low carbon synthetic crude oil, and valuable chemicals and waxes.
Using a unique, patented hydrothermal upgrading platform, the Cat-HTR (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor), ReNew ELP will shortly commence construction of the world’s first commercial scale plant at its recently acquired site in Teesside, North East England. The plant will use our innovative chemical process to convert end-of-life plastic waste into sustainable oils and chemicals,
 contributing to the establishment of a Circular Economy.
ReNew ELP’s product is sustainable, stable, low sulphur and non-corrosive and can be blended within a conventional refinery to produce recycled oils and chemicals. The product can also be fractionated to produce valuable biochemicals, solvents, waxes and other petrochemical products.
ReNew ELP is developing the first commercial scale Cat-HTR plant in the industrial heartland of North East England, with the aim of reducing the volume of waste plastic that enters the environment. Our approach will demonstrate that a low-carbon, low-waste society can be achieved with the right focus, technology and investment.
Globally 311 million tonnes of plastics are produced per year, but only 5% is currently recycled. In the UK, over 2.5 million tonnes of plastics goes to landfill every year. Sorting plastics to enable them to be recycled is both challenging and expensive, but our patented technology enables this material to be processed into high value oils and chemicals, recovering scarce resources.  
ReNew ELP has an ambitious programme of development in the UK. Our first site in Teesside has a potential total processing capacity of 80,000 tonnes per annum. ReNew ELP is looking at other potential sites around the UK and is also offering to license the technology to waste producers and waste processing companies. The longer-term goal for ReNew ELP is to channel further investment into emerging technologies to support the creation of renewable and sustainable energy and useful chemical products."

Encouraged by these positives I contacted our MP to see what the Government were doing to encourage  the creation of a circular economy in plastics.  His reply was very similar to one several months ago, mentioning negotiating with supermarkets for plastic free aisles, and banning plastic cotton buds and straws ... later.  As his answer had nothing to do with my questions I responded and I am once again awaiting a reply.