QUAKERS IN YORKSHIRE by Keith Burdett

A report from the Sheffield and Balby Area Meeting attended the Quakers in Yorkshire event at Huddersfield on 16th April.

We had a morning and afternoon filled with interest making us realise how dangerous is the way in which the military is infiltrating our schools and our whole way of life. It started with a presentation of a play performed by Lynn and Dave Morris, called “Over the Top” – a deliberate double meaning referring back to the trenches of WW1 and to the way a school head teacher could be over enthusiastic about setting up an army cadet corps in his school. We were reminded that the former education minister Michael Gove had expressed his wish, supported, in fact amplified by his successor Nicky Morgan, to see a military ethos in every school, encouraging arms manufacturers and the armed forces to give strong financial backing to the project. In the play the Quaker mother of one of the schoolboys resisted the policy by addressing the school governors in spite of the undermining tactics of the head. This was both entertaining and thought provoking.

The afternoon started with three short talks which became the subjects for later discussions in groups. Sam Walton, the Peace and Disarmament Manager of Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) from Britain Yearly Meeting showed that the key strand of current policy is the militarisation of education by fostering public support. Isabel Cartwright, Peace Education Progamme Manager for QPSW showed how schemes such as ‘Troops to Teachers’ and the spread of cadet corps in state schools and colleges is happening now. John Bourton of ‘Veterans for Peace’ told how his organisation of people who have served in the forces witnesses to the actual way the military operates, unlike its propaganda.

We then saw a short film titled “The Unseen March” showing how militarism is creeping into our lives generally. This was followed by the discussion sessions led by each of the three speakers. John Bourton and a colleague related how one of them had been trying to study dentistry but was coming to a halt for lack of money. He discovered there was an Army Dentistry course where he would be actually paid for studying, so he signed up for it. It led him into more things than dentistry – unfortunately, and encountered the doctrine of obeying orders from above without question. They showed how the Army is well resourced for the school programme and for recruiting, often presented as peace keeping and healthy activity. This appeals to young people especially those with a poor background or those who have failed in the job market. Poverty was noted as the best recruiter.

The war years, especially around 1940, are often presented as a time of national glory forgetting that half the male population in Europe was killed in WW2 with a greater number of civilian casualties. This happens in all conflicts. We are made to accept this military creep by phrases like “Help for Heroes” and a new “Armed Forces Day”. British Aerospace finances all the red poppy making and the British Legion is increasingly changing its strategy from Remembrance to “Support the Troops” Even Remembrance Sunday has become a much expanded event for military display. We need to resist and object to this military creep wherever we detect it by contacting our MPs or the organisations concerned.

We ended with a jolly good tea! Thank you Huddersfield Meeting.

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