Saturday, 13 October 2007

Military recruitment or What's education for anyway?

I’d like to put the record straight for those readers who have the impression I’m not concerned about boys’ poor communication skills and under-performance at school. I am, because we all know what happens to some of those boys: they join the army.

And as the UK armed forces are currently operating below full strength according to statistics from the Defence Analytical Service Agency, there’s a new vigorous recruitment campaign encouraging 17s year olds to fly apache helicopters instead of going to university.

The case is especially relevant to the wild Welsh highlands of Gwynedd where the city of Bangor’s recruiting office has the second highest recruitment rate in the whole of the UK. I don’t think it’s anything to with the persuasion skills of the recruiting officers – it’s because there’s not much else on offer in the way of youth employment opportunities, as I’ve blogged elsewhere. So, despite parental opposition (particularly since the invasion of Iraq) the youth of the area depart, telling themselves as they’ve been told, that they have the chance to learn a trade and ignoring the fact that it may involve killing or getting killed. The news still makes it clear that it’s a man’s job and, in fact, this is one area of life where sex discrimination does work in women’s favour: it is still boys who are wanted as cannon fodder. On the other hand, it is the wives and mothers of soldiers who have been campaigning to bring troops home.

As I’m recounting this to my daughter who’s studying in England, she informs me of something I should have known about a long time ago: the university officer training corps (UOTC). Operational since the beginning of the 20th century, this programme currently comprises 19 units across the UK and aims:
To develop the leadership potential of selected university students through enjoyable training in order to communicate the values, ethos and career opportunities of the British Army.

It recruits students into weekend boot camp activities and offers the perk of free holidays abroad (or as it is stated: ‘we learn to plan and carry out expeditions overseas’). The purpose is not to persuade them to join the armed forces per se but to foster pro-army attitudes among the middle-class, according to one student’s analysis, “so that the future captains of industry will encourage their less well-educated workers to join up if there’s a war.”

The Khaki Dragon

This kind if inequality is particularly striking in Wales, which, as one of the poorest areas of the UK, seems to have become central government’s backyard for military developments, increasingly dependent on the British war machine for economic survival.

It was Plaid Cymru who late last year blew one whistle, providing figures to show that the army recruitment division visited schools in deprived areas of Wales twice as often as those in wealthy areas and thus highlighting the trend across Britain - which led to the MoD curtailing its practice of school visits (although the Welsh Assembly itself refused to take action).

However, cadet training, which takes place outside schools, is still booming in Wales: there are an estimated 7000 young people between 12 and 18 in over 100 cadet units and up to 4000 17- 32 year olds trained as Territorial Army soldiers in 23 TA units. Such enlightening statistics can be found in comprehensive research commissioned by Wales CND into the militarisation of the region. Their report entitled The Khaki Dragon - which is available to download here - also provides a full listing of sites in Wales that are used by arms related industries (at least 35 involved in military contracts) and military-sponsored education and research (Defence Technology Centres at Cardiff and Swansea universities).

And as Ray Davies, chair of Cardiff UNA, blogs:
Between 2001 and 2004 the Ministry of Defence provided military training for over 12,000 personnel from 137 countries, many with poor human rights records. All of this raises the prospect of Wales being used as a training ground for any corrupt dictator who happens to have a million pounds to spare.

What’s education for anyway?

I wrote an earlier post on the St Athans military academy and the involvement of the Open University there. But I’m pleased to see that there are some instances in Britain where higher education questions its own role in contemporary society. Prior to the No Border camp, London academics ran a 2-day free open access event at Goldsmiths University entitled The migrating university: No detention, no deportation, no borders in education where one of the panels discussed the following:
Does a university education offer a passport to a world of opportunity? Are the old exclusions of race, class, gender and ability fully redeemed by our policies and ‘inclusive’ programs? Or is the new hierarchy a filtering mechanism which promises precarious labour for some, security and success for others? While some may never question their right to access, do some have to fight to move at all and others struggle daily simply to pass or fail? Is education really a social good, a pass to freedom; or is it rather a ticket to a new set of subjugations?

There’s not much sense of autonomy here in north Wales. Along with RAF Valley (which trains fighter pilots from all over the world) the picturesque Isle of Anglesey also houses Britain’s largest magnox type nuclear power station at Wylfa. This is likely to be replaced soon by Wylfa ‘B’ if the latest 'consultation’ gives the government the go-ahead to build a new generation of power stations across the UK.

Though I’ve returned home from my travels, I still seem to be living in a developing country which has been forced to sell out under external pressures, is subject to cynical class-based control and where political leaders like to take the name of the Lord in vain as they make empty promises of peace and security for everyone. Our elitist society where intellectuals criticise exceptions like President Chavez - for closing down private schools in Venezuela and daring to say that capitalist ideology destroys the values of cooperation and egalitarianism.

Read The Khaki Dragon: download the Wales CND report here

1 comment:

Respectable Citizen said...

Good Blog,

I should inform you that Plaid Cymru fully support the Military Academy and prominent left wing elected members of Plaid have declined to support the campaign against it.

The only political party in Wales to come out publicly against St Athan's is our own - Respect.

Even the Green Party has refused to speak out on the grounds of jobs - truly shocking!