Jay Sutherland, founder member of Scotland Against Militarism, gave the following address at the International Conscientious Objectors' Day ceremony held in Tavistock Square today. (report to follow)
"When most people think of militarism it's something easy to picture - tanks, guns, bombs - but as we all know it's much more than that. The armed forces rely on society having this blurred image so that they can continue their 'everyday' aspects of militarism. And when this image isn't so clear it becomes harder to fight - our job is to make people aware of this, to challenge what looks like a small apparently innocent thing like an armed forces 'fun day' for example which we challenged in my city and show what it really is.
The group I am part of - Scotland Against Militarism - was founded from a small local group in rural Scotland to a nation wide campaign in Scotland. We first went national as heard the army wanted to expand cadet units to many Scottish schools. This was a national problem which required a national campaign. As a result we were founded with just a handful of volunteers and grew to having thousands in attendance at protests, on many issues surrounding militarism - from the army going into schools to arms fairs.
One of the things we speak a lot about in Scotland Against Militarism is youth liberation - and then others in the peace movement say what does that have to do with militarism and peace? My answer is militarism is a youth issue and it always has been - the war machine relies on converting generations of young people to believe their politically-charged lies. One the main issues we young people face along with the cost of living, is constant bombardment by the armed forces to believe in this type of patriotism that we can't nor want to identify with.
It makes me so angry to see that in our society in Britain and over the world, we don't equate respect or courage to these people who resisted to fight - because the fact is many people went to war out of fear - it took more courage to refuse. But this isn't a comparison of who is braver or not. That is something that's wrong with our countries' discussion on this topic is about bravery, as if people just like us were not allowed to feel scared or not allowed to feel terrified about going to war - I know I would be.
Why is it that when we think back everyone has to be strong all of the time, they have to be mentally sound. This translates to today because the armed forces want to keep the narrative up that we are not allowed to have bad moments, we are taught shame for apparently not doing anything in our lives, according to many of our elders - and some of them think the army is the answer, I've heard so many times from people that if young people were forced to join the armed forces that it would somehow sort us all out - as if there is something to sort out in the first place. It's the society that needs to be fixed not us!
We need to recognise that these issues have not gone away. The same physiological tactics that the armed forces and their allies used then are being used now - only recently Chucka Umunna and his new party called for compulsory service for younger people, admittedly it was only litter picking, community service but also involvement in the armed forces. We need to see this is how it all starts - it starts a journey where the real issues that are facing young people around housing, the cost of living and education are all solved with us toughening up and joining the army. This narrative must be challenged at all costs.
In the village I grew up in, which was a rural part of Scotland and very deprived, I saw the army first hand come into my community and try and persuade and convince people who were hit hardest by austerity, to keep buying into the very structure and state that had harmed their lives.
I was recently lucky enough to go on an education course in Catalonia where we examined power structures - one thing that struck me was that the armed forces try to hold so much power over certain groups of people - they hold power generally over older people who feel they need to stay loyal to the good old days - and on the other hand they wish to grow their influence over the emerging generation through their new campaigns.
But my generation need to realise we are the ones that give away our power. The armed forces rely on the disenfranchisement and miseducation of us, we need to see that why would we want to be part of a institution that requires that of, only when we see that will the armed forces start losing their power. That is exactly what we speak about when we mean youth liberation. And that term is needed because we are in the middle of a culture war in this country, not one that is fought with guns or bombs but one that is a battle of ideas, where we see the far right and the militarists side by side - as seen with Tommy Robinson the founder of the racist EDL English Defence League, posing with the army. We have institutions that were previously neutral to our cause joining us, because we all know that staying quiet when we have the privilege to speak up is still picking a side - because not speaking up is what our oppressors rely on.
When Scotland Against Militarism fought the Arms Fair in Glasgow and won, we saw that BAE, the world's largest arms dealer had brought students from the local universities in STEM subjects to be part of the conference! This is what happens if militarism is allowed to run rampant. Our best and brightest minds that could help with so many of society's problems are employed by the people destroying the world and killing many.
The system is clearly broken, it takes me back to my point - that although these things look innocent enough such as the way they framed it as taking students from STEM subjects to give them vital employment skills - we know this to be rubbish but it's taking control of the narrative so that we can stop militarism in its tracks.
In memory of all those especially the young people whose lives were ruined or lost through refusing to fight, we must continue the fight against the militarisation of our society in whatever form it comes in.
Before I came here I stayed in a squat in Manchester, after discussing militarism and the issues, with people who had been members of the armed forces we all wrote 'militancy not militarism on the wall'. "
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