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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

British Militarism Marches On

It's not enough that retired colonels in hotel lobbies drone on about their military campaigns and kill ratios; the Conservative government's latest wheeze is to recycle former senior military and intelligence officers into an "officer class" of Britain's police forces. Plans are being floated of a Sandhurst-style police training facility to improve the quality of policing, as well as to develop a US-style FBI, a national police force.

In truth, this has been on the cards: British police increasingly resemble soldiers in terms of their uniforms, equipment, helmets, vehicles. It is staggering to think that back in 1981, when youth riots and uprisings hit Britain, police were reduced to using dustbin lids for protection. It was shortly after that that Margaret Thatcher's "stop youth in their tracks" policies really took hold, and we saw the appointment of a Metropolitan police commissioner, Newman, with experience of policing the north of Ireland. One assumes that the Cameron government is preparing the Eton Rifles for service against British people squeezed out of their jobs and pensions and benefits.

But the open espousal of plans to place former soldiers in the top ranks of the police suggests that the militarisation of practically all aspects of national life marches on. We have nursery militarism, military charities working in schools, broadcast on popular entertainment programmes at peak time, and the virtual hijacking of poppy day by the British Legion which has come under fire for militarising what is supposed to be a solemn remembrance of men and women who were killed in war and a reaffirmation of the universal desire for peace. And we know that, as a matter of policy, the British military recruits virtual child soldiers at the tender age of 16 years on the basis of some semblance of a career for kids from council estates. We also know that the British military welcomes the impacts on kids of air shows and military parades, with all their pomp and ceremony and colour, as it sows a seed that latter germinates into signing up. No mention of death and destruction, of unjust wars.

It is also interesting that the crisis in the Metropolitan police brought to attention by their extremely close and corrupt relationship with News International is being used as a lever to inaugurate change in the police. Meanwhile, the larger lessons of the Murdoch empire's behaviour, that a media in the hands of a tiny number of large corporations is corrosive of free speech and democracy, and that successive governments have been in hock to Murdoch appears, to have slid onto the inside pages of most newspapers. No calls there for a radical shake up of media ownership laws.

The Conservative government may well plan deep cuts in military spending but it is clear, from its leading role in the intervention in Libya's internal affairs, and in its other actions and plans, that it still marches to a militarist tune. And the full brunt of that militarism is to be faced by those who protest against job losses, cuts to benefits and university places, those very often who have very little in the first place. What more could be expected from the most elitist Cabinet in recent history?

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