PEACE CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed the news that there will be no national Armed Forces Day event this year, as no local authorities have come forward to host it.

There has also been a sharp drop in the overall number of Armed Forces Day events across the country. In 2019 there were 316 events listed on the official Armed Forces Day website, compared to only 189 this year. Campaigners say this is a positive sign that interest may be declining.

For several years, local residents and campaigners have raised concerns about Armed Forces Day events marketed as ‘family fun’, with activities designed for children presenting armed violence as glamorous and exciting. They have expressed particular concern at the widespread practice of encouraging children as young as six to handle real weapons.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Ministry of Defence, made by ForcesWatch and the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), has revealed that no local authorities came forward to hold the national event this year, suggesting a lack of interest in funding and hosting it. In previous years, the national event has cost councils hundreds of thousands of pounds to run.

This year the Ministry of Defence is spending over £420,000 on local Armed Forces Day events, with some councils having to find significant additional funding. During a cost of living crisis, campaigners argue that this money would be better spent on public services.

In the run up to Armed Forces Day this year, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) and ForcesWatch have reported increased numbers of requests for materials for protests. Postcards saying ‘War is Not Family Entertainment’ have been sent to numerous groups across the UK.

Joe Glenton, a veteran from ForcesWatch who speaks about Armed Forces Day in a new film, said: “The annual Armed Forces Day was conceived as a response to the post-Iraq and Afghanistan crisis in public opinion. It serves to create acceptance for the use of violent force, and as a tool to recruit the next generation. While supporting individual personnel and veterans is important, this day seeks to put a gloss on military institutions and military action. We hope to see a continued decline in the number of local councils supporting this.”

Geoff Tibbs from the PPU said: “At a time when we are seeing schools and hospitals attacked in Gaza and Ukraine, Armed Forces Day events are presenting war as family entertainment. Children are being invited to handle the very kinds of weapons that are killing civilians abroad. We must resist these glaring examples of everyday militarism on our streets.”

A local resident from Irvine who is planning a protest this weekend said: “Armed Forces Day attempts to glorify war and glamourise military service. I am pleased to say we will be organising a number of street stalls around the time to highlight our concerns.”

In Cambridge, residents have organised a peace camp to oppose the city’s first ever event for Armed Forces Day, arguing that it seems “wholly insensitive” to hold a self-described military fair against the backdrop of the war in Gaza.

Further protests are taking place in Leicester, Portsmouth, Leeds, Weymouth, Aldershot, and many other places around the UK.

Armed Forces Day has faced opposition ever since it began in 2009, in the wake of resistance to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year the national event in Falmouth was met with a peace parade through the city. In Leicester, the City Council now prevents the armed forces from inviting children to handle weapons, following a campaign by local residents.

In response to FOI requests made by ForcesWatch and the PPU, many local councils have confirmed that they have no specific policies in place on children handling weapons in public spaces or the armed forces targeting children in their recruitment activities.

ForcesWatch is a UK organisation dedicated to investigating militarisation, military ethics and human rights concerns. It monitors unethical military recruitment practices, issues affecting personnel and veterans, and initiatives that aim to build support for war.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) is one of the UK’s oldest pacifist organisations, founded in 1934. Its members pledge not to support war and to work for the removal of the causes of war. The PPU’s work includes promoting peacebuilding, challenging militarism, providing educational resources on peace and distributing the white poppy in memory of all victims of war. The PPU is the British section of War Resisters’ International and works with peace campaigners around the world.

* Sources: Peace Pledge Union  and ForcesWatch