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Friday, 25 February 2011

Militarised Britain: From Poppies to X Factor to the Premier League

War may well be the continuation of politics by violent means, as Clausewitz said, but it is by no means obvious in British popular culture.

USBlog has in recent months considered the militarisation of British culture by highlighting the ways in which the annual 'poppy appeal' has incorporated support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; support for those wars on prime-time programmes like X-Factor, as well the ways in which military charities are visiting schools and even nurseries to parade their cause. In each instance, and I'm sure in many others too, war is lifted out of politics - the struggle over who gets what and how - and placed in the domain of the welfare of 'our boys'. By so doing, sympathy and empathy are mobilised behind one side and implicitly against the 'other' side, without examining the nature of the war or the gross imbalance of casualties, military and civilian.

Yesterday's Daily Mail added a new dimension to the issue (24 February 2011). Its sports pages are normally opinionated, dramatic and sensationalist. This is not surprising. In uncharacteristically un-sensational terms, the paper reported that a former premier league footballer, Lee Crooks, has joined the RAF and is about to go to fight in Afghanistan. The article purports to be non-political, and just mere reporting, but notes in its very first sentence that Crooks "is about to move from defence on the pitch to the front line in Afghanistan". By noting Crooks's defensive role as footballer in the same sentence as announcing his move to Afghanistan, it implies that British forces there are engaged in a defensive war, an opinion not shared by everyone.

The article quotes Crooks arguing that football and war are quite similar: Being a soldier and player both require "working as a team, being there for your team-mates and moving forward as a team," Crooks suggested. These must be waht Edmund Burke meant when he referred to the "little platoons" that make for a cohesive social structure. Crooks may be in for a shock.

The British empire was built on the playing fields of Eton - sports made Victorian school boys muscular Christians who would civilise the world. As far back as George Orwell, it was noted that football is war minus the shooting. Countries at war often produce aggressive sports, a consequence of militarised culture. The results are not pretty.

Lee Crooks is not going from playing in defence to defending his country. He is going from a sports field full of aggression to the killing fields of Afghanistan.

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