So, let’s make it very clear a the outset. I have respect for the military. I realise that among them there are some phenomenally brave and dedicated people and, although in my lifetime this has never really been an issue (in that all the wars fought since heaven knows when have been fought on foreign soil, many thousands of miles away from Scotland), I accept that they are there to keep us safe and I’m grateful for that.
Of course, I don’t agree that an impoverished little country like Britain should have the massive military spend that it does in order to punch above its weight and make senior ministers imagine that they are in some way important. (Let’s be honest, most military decision that affect us are made in Washington. All we do is provide manpower in return for them allowing our prime minister to look like he or she counts. Legacy is all!) A smaller military would be fine for the UK.
I can also get pretty angry about the way that the UK government treats military personnel returning from whatever war Washington has sent them to. Big on the turn out at the Cenotaph, wearing long faces and black coats… a little less enthusiastic when it comes to providing them with work, or medical/psychological treatment and the necessary benefits, when their experiences have gutted them and left them unable to settle back to normal life.
We have to be careful about how much influence the military has. And the latest idea by the UK’s Defence Secretary makes me decidedly uncomfortable. The May Youth?
A good few years ago, I ran a project to help young school leavers to get into work: apprenticeships, training places, college, etc.
While I was doing that, in cooperation with other projects, we ran a Jobs Fair, and of course, my lot turned up (although most of the lads had already chosen, and been accepted for, some sort of apprenticeship).
The Army was there with their recruitment team. And the 16-year-olds gravitated to their stall. A while later after the fair, we were having a coffee as a group and the lads were full of tales of the wonders of the army life.
How much they paid, how many sports you could play, how you got to travel and see the world, what trades and skills you could learn.
“They teach you to ski, Tris!”
Maybe, some of them thought, they should turn down the jobs that they were heading for and take up the military challenge… ‘the queen’s 5 pence’ as it were? It would be a life of fun and adventure. What did I think?
Faced with all this youthful enthusiasm, I was dubious about being too negative but felt I had to intervene with a bit of common sense (after all we’d worked hard to get employers to take them for apprenticeships and letting employers down is never a good idea). So I did ask how they felt about Afghanistan and Iraq, in both of which at the time UK forces were involved in brutal wars.
‘Where?’ they chorused!
These inconvenient little facts hadn’t been mentioned, it seemed.
War? Killing people? Getting killed? Or maimed? Seeing mates killed?
Of all that stuff, not a word.
Now, that seemed a trifle irresponsible, I thought. It’s a bit like taking on a chef and not mentioning that some cookery would be involved. I decided that at future jobs fairs, the military would not be invited.
Of course, I have no problem with people making a decision to join the armed forces. It can be a good life for the right person and as I’ve said, we may need them one day. I had an uncle who dedicated his life to it and was very happy doing so.
But kids need to have all the facts and not a glorified version of life in the forces. I’m happy to say all my lads chose to stick with the dull old apprenticeships in Dundee.
I don’t think it is the job of schools to make soldiers or sailors or airmen. Certainly not of 12-year-olds full of dreams, especially maybe those who come from difficult backgrounds of poverty and deprivation, as so many do.
I trust that our Education Secretary declines to involve Scottish schools in this scheme. I’m suspicious that they really want to do, as they have always done, is take people from the poorest areas in the country, and make cannon fodder of them.
Or am I being too harsh?