Reserves Day is pure militarist propaganda
Thursday 8th September 2016
Reserves Day is part of the Establishment’s ongoing attempt to place its wars and military above scrutiny, writes SYMON HILL
SEEN any uniformed soldiers in the street today? It might be common in Israel or the US, but it’s unusual in Britain.
Today, however, you might find a uniformed solider selling you this newspaper in a shop or pulling you a pint in the local pub.
Today is Reserves Day, when members of the armed forces reserves are encouraged to “wear your uniform to work”.
Look up Reserves Day online and you can find a string of employers eager to say they are “supporting our reserves” by allowing them to wear uniforms to their day jobs today.
As a socialist and trade unionist, I certainly don’t want employers to prevent their workers dressing how they wish.
Unfortunately, I doubt these employers would be so keen on allowing left-wing workers to wear anti-war T-shirts or pacifist badges.
Celebrations for Reserves Day were launched by Michael Fallon, the euphemistically entitled “Defence” Secretary.
Rather than defending the British people, his government seems more interested in attacking them with cuts to public services and the welfare state.
Fallon — standing alongside Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, this year’s comedy cabinet appointment — declared that armed forces reserves are vital to our security.
He was less keen to point out how much difficulty he has in recruiting them.
In 2011, the government announced a reduction in full-time troops and an increase in reservists.
The Territorial Army was renamed the Army Reserve with the intention that it would include 35,000 soldiers by 2020.
Things went wrong, with a string of media stories about the slow speed of recruitment.
While recruitment appeared to increase in 2015, whistleblowers alleged that official figures were well above the number of functioning troops.
Reserves Day is a desperate and doomed recruitment exercise.
It presents life in the armed forces as glamorous and exciting, but public attitudes are changing and fewer people will now fall for this.
Social media, as well as more conventional forms of publicity, has drawn attention to revelations of bullying and sexual abuse in the forces, not least in the recent inquest into the death of teenage soldier Cheryl James at Deepcut barracks.
Recruitment of reservists is difficult.
Recruitment of full-time soldiers draws on fears of unemployment and poverty.
It is focused on the poorest and most disadvantaged teenagers.
This tactic is harder when it comes to the part-time soldiers, as the reserves do not offer such a route out of poverty.
It seems that young people are now less keen to train for warfare and give up their freedom to think for themselves.
Some respond by pointing out that the forces also help, for example, people affected by floods.
I would happily pay taxes to fund an organisation whose main purpose was to help people in this way, but this is incidental to the purpose of armed forces. They exist to engage in violence.
Somebody once responded to me by saying, “Members of the army would save your life if ordered to do so.”
This is true. Many of them would also shoot me if ordered to do so.
Reserves Day is part of an ongoing attempt to militarise British society and to place the armed forces beyond criticism and public scrutiny.
In the last decade, we have seen the introduction not only of Reserves Day in September but of Armed Forces Day in June.
We have seen the “Troops to Teachers” programme, an increase in military visits to schools, the development of cadet forces and an increasingly militarised tone to the British Legion’s messages for Remembrance day.
It is no coincidence that this all follows a sharp drop in public enthusiasm for war at the time of the invasion of Iraq.
The Establishment has responded by whipping up support for the armed forces.
They secure support for war by the back door.
For all their talk of supporting “our boys,” militarists rarely suggest that wounded soldiers and bereaved relatives should be able to rely on a decent welfare state.
Militarist charities such as Help for Heroes make it easier for ministers to cut social security, rattling tins to help the wounded while our taxes are used to fund the fifth highest military budget in the world.
On Reserves Day, let’s be active. We can politely question people we see in armed forces uniforms, offering a different perspective.
We can ensure that the #ReservesDay hashtag on Twitter is not dominated by talk of heroes and romanticised images of war.
We can check our use of militarised language, avoiding talk of “our” troops and “defence”.
Members of the reserves can of course do something even better.
Rather than putting on their uniforms today, the best way that reservists can celebrate Reserves Day is to throw off their uniforms, disobey orders and refuse to fight.
Injustice is possible only when people do what they are told.
Symon Hill is co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU).