Armed Forces Day and the quieter voice

By Jill Segger
June 26, 2017

It seems that just as 'poppy facism' is beginning to lose its sway over our consciences and behaviours, Armed Forces Day may be being groomed to take its place.

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised in some quarters for accepting a long-standing invitation to Glastonbury rather than attending an Armed Forces Day event. James Heappey, the MP for Wells, wrote a letter to Corbyn inviting him to a parade in Burnham-on-Sea just ten hours ahead of the occasion. That the communication of useful information was not the primary purpose of this missive would seem to be confirmed by Heappey's publication of the letter on social media. At the best, this could be perceived as a failure of good manners.

Then there was the irritably-toned Twitter response from a retired army officer to this statement from Jeremy Corbyn: “On Armed Forces Day, I thank our dedicated forces and veterans for their service, sacrifice and commitment”. This apparently, showed “utter disrespect” because “Corbyn doesn't know the difference between Armed Forces Day and Remembrance Sunday. Thinks they're interchangeable”. It seems that this very similar contribution from the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, had escaped the complainant's notice: “We owe a huge gratitude to the men and women of our Armed Forces and salute their service in keeping us safe each and every day.”

It is perfectly acceptable to eschew the outward forms represented by Armed Forces Day displays just as it is to wear a white poppy or no poppy at all. Many of us are guided by our consciences to make these choices. And it is strangely – possibly wilfully – short-sighted to see this as disrespect for the men and women of the armed forces. The current manifestation of Armed Forces Day should not be be beyond critical questioning.The tabloids like to present dissent as 'snubs' to opinions which they have played a significant part in forming, but Quakers are not alone in being disturbed by the packaging of the gear and tackle of armed conflict as family entertainment. If you doubt that such packaging is a recruiting ploy, consider this from Colonel David Allfrey, former head of the Army's recruitment strategy: “Our new model is about raising awareness, and that takes a ten-year span. It starts with a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show an thinking 'that looks great'. From then on, the army is trying to build interest by drip, drip, drip”. Colonel Allfrey, described the follow-up of the dripping in these words: “The army careers advisers who operate in schools are skilled salesmen”.

So your seven-year-old may be very excited to get the opportunity of wearing an oversized helmet and sitting behind a machine gun on Armed Forces Day, but do not be deceived. This is not about respect for the skill and courage of military personnel. It is carefully contrived advertising aimed at the vulnerable.

The Quaker Meeting of which I am a member held a silent vigil in the Peace Garden of an East Anglian market town on Armed Forces Day (24 June 2017). We have done this for several years and always advertise it in the same way – “we emphasise our belief that the best way of supporting the country's military personnel is to work and pray for peace, peace-building and conflict resolution.”

There is another way and its voice is a quiet one. Here is the American theologian Stanley Hauerwas: “As long as it is assumed that war is always an available option, we will not be forced to imagine any alternative to war”.

Let us be imaginative. Pageantry and conformity are neither indices of respect nor tools of peace.

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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.co/quakerpen

 

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