Armed Forces Day: an alternative viewpoint

Armed Forces Day: an alternative viewpoint

Today (30 June) is Armed Forces Day. The idea was introduced in 2009 to "show support for the men and women of the armed forces".

David Cameron has conflated the idea with a specific manifestation of patriotism. In 2010 he "wanted to see an explosion of red white and blue all over the country." This year, he said "Today is an opportunity for everyone up and down the country to clearly show how grateful we are to all our brave servicemen and women for all that they do." Those service personnel who were recently handed their redundancy notices just a few days before their pension entitlement came into operation may justifiably see that as hypocrisy.

But as parades, military displays and fly-pasts took place all over the country, it seems unlikely that many who were enjoying the pageantry would be asking themselves or their government too many awkward questions.

None of this sits easily with Quakers. The Meeting of which I am a member felt we had to make a response and as the Area Meeting media officer, I wrote the following with the mindful and valued assistance of the Meeting's media group:

On 30 June, the country celebrates Armed Forces Day. There will be parades and bands, spectacle and excitement.

As members of the Religious Society of Friends - better known as Quakers - we feel it our concern to offer an alternative view.

We are a body committed to peace and non-violence and find ourselves in a difficult situation in responding to the popular mood. Let there be no misunderstanding, we are wholeheartedly in agreement with the duty to care for the courageous men and women of our armed forces. We know that their families often suffer greatly and undergo deep anxiety while those whom they love are serving in areas of conflict. They deserve our respect and support.

But it is our belief that the pageantry which we will see throughout the country this coming weekend may disguise the realities of armed conflict. It may also lull us into a sense that by turning out for the spectacle, we are doing all that is necessary to support these brave and skillful people.

We believe that the truest care we can give is to explore all means of keeping them out of the way of injury and death. To this end, we wish to state our conviction that we should all take time to examine carefully the causes of conflict, the foreign policies of our governments and the alternatives to armed intervention. We believe that by being sensitive to oppression or grievance, striving always to create consensus, being ready to admit past error, to make reparation and above all, not to see force of arms as a panacea for failed policies, we will do the best service to the members of our armed forces.

It seems appropriate to close with these words from a public statement made in 1987 by Quakers in New Zealand: "We may disagree with the views and actions of the politician or the soldier who opts for a military solution, but we still respect and cherish the person."

The local paper ran this statement in full - not, perhaps an easy decision for them as the town has strong military connections. The heading they gave it was 'An alternative viewpoint'.

If this is your viewpoint, don't let the noisyness of popularism intimidate you. People are often a good deal more thoughtful than governments would like.

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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