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 forcesMic 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 remembranceWar 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 warIan 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."
RemembranceWar 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 peaceQuakers 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 youngWar 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 soldiersPerhaps 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.