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Fighting is never the best way to settle an argument. We teach children this, yet we also show them a stream of gun-filled movies, displays of weapons, military recruitment and news which fetishises war and other violence, rather than the peaceful, good news. Although most of us aren't from 'military families', they do exist throughout society. Could this continued existence of large armed forces be called a social cancer? Some people work to stop war, to ban nuclear weapons or landmines. That's fair enough, but we can see all this in a wider context; that of a militarised society. Many countries have only a token army. Others have over-bloated land, air and sea forces. The UK is in the latter category, along with our bullying cousin, the USA. To ask why may be interesting. Of course historical processes led us to this point, but must we continue down the same path? Sending the kids from our working class estates into battle, often to return traumatised, mentally scarred, if not physically damaged - or dead? Everyone loves a soldier. Those handsome uniforms. The bravery. The discipline. They go away as kids and return as adults. It's always been like this, but it needs questioning. Why, for example, should military forces wear identical uniforms? The answer is probably to do with team-work, conformity, lack of personal freedom, unquestioning obedience to authority in a way that leaves ex-military personnel without the initiative required for many jobs. Forces must obey fighting orders without troubling their minds about the facts, the politics, the justification. This needs a special kind of masculinity, of traditionally male attributes; hardness, careful control of feelings, bravery, strength, bullying and acceptance of bullying, teasing as a way of interacting - that so often leads on to racist, misogynist and homophobic taunts. Pick on the weak, admire the strong. The unacceptable nasty side of military life, passed on between generations. Some soldiers rape. Victimised recruits sometimes commit suicide. Facts on the ground, unspoken. Others have pointed out the 'military-industrial complex' which drives defence spending. This is a mesh of arms traders and manufacturers, along with top military men and their political friends, ensuring a handsome wedge of the national income is siphoned into this non-productive money sink. The UK is also heavily invested in top brass. We have far more senior officers per head among the ranks, compared with the USA and others. Historical reasons? Yes of course, we have to be able to throw our weight around, to defend British interests by killing people, to impress the natives and prove that Britannia still rules the waves. And we have to provide lucrative officer careers for the sons of the gentry, honoured with deferential respect and later with impressive titles. These are the top-of-the-food-chain characters in this particular hierarchy, of course. The lower orders just see army recruitment stalls grooming their kids in high street shops and at summer fairs, eager to recruit, looking for those desperate to get out of a humdrum life. So desperate that enlisting, committing to life in a killing mechanism, seems glamorous. Perhaps the uniform will make them seem smarter than they really feel inside. Perhaps then they will attract the eye of the prettiest girl... Food for thought next time you see army recruitment at a summer fair; it's the only career that funds regular TV adverts to attract young people. On the other hand, with no funds at all many in Sheffield are fighting for peace. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has an active campaigning presence in the city, and newcomers are welcome. They are currently concentrating on the militarisation of university campuses, Trident missiles, and local connections with the US military. Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, under an informal and secretive lease agreement with the UK government, is an intelligence base collecting and analysing information from satellites, phonetapping and intercepted internet traffic. Fylingdales is a ballistic missile early warning radar station, part of the US missile defence programme on British soil. RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire is home base for 'pilots' controlling Reaper Stealth bombers (drones) by remote control, killing in comfort at computer consoles. There is more information on these on the Yorkshire CND website. Alt-Sheff also has an Anti-Militarism listing on the Links page. In a death culture where animals are bred, inseminated, raised and killed in industrial processes, a foreign policy based on death-threats may be rationalised. The 'regrettable' killing of innocent bystanders may be accepted as 'collateral damage', an unfortunate side-effect of the use of force to 'defend' state interests. Like terrorists, or playground bullies, governments must have armies, mustn't they? )

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