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Soldiers showing weapons to children

Militarism is on the rise in the UK, seeping into ever more areas of life.

Militarist values affect our attitudes not only to conflict and war, but to authority, nationality and human rights.

The Peace Pledge Union is challenging everyday militiarism and promoting a pacifist alternative.


The UK government is increasing cadet forces in schools. Armed Forces Day is now marked in communities around the UK. Members of the Army Reserve have an annual “Wear your uniform to work” day. We are encouraged to applaud soldiers as “heroes” and give to charities to support them, even as the welfare state on which wounded individuals should be able to rely is dismantled in front of us.

Even our language is militarised. We say “defence” when we mean preparations for war and “conflict” when we mean violence, as if violence were the only way to engage in conflict. The government is accused of spending too little on “defence”. Coverage rarely mentions that the UK has the world’s seventh highest military budget.

Viewed at its simplest, militarism is the belief in the use of force and violence to promote and protect supposed national interest. But miltiarism goes much further than this. Militarist values affect our attitudes not only to conflict and war, but to many other aspects of power, politics and everyday life.


The first claim of militarism is that violence solves conflict. However, conflict happens all the time: whenever two or more people have incompatible aims. The vast majority of conflicts do not involve violence.
Soldiers showing weapons to children
As pacifists, we do not reject conflict. Indeed, to be a pacifist is to be in conflict with society’s dominant values.

Pacifists want to resolve conflict without violence. War inevitably leads to innocent people suffering. This is a matter of practicality as well as morality. Any positive effect that violence appears to have is only ever short-term. As Martin Luther King put it, violence can destroy the hater, but it takes much more to destroy the hate.

Many people want to resolve conflicts peacefully. However, keeping violence in the background as a “last resort” often means that nonviolent options are not thoroughly explored, or are mistakenly assumed to be possible only in the early stages of a conflict.

It’s notable that most recent military actions ordered by UK governments have been opposed by a large percentage of the British population. Many recognise this yet are reluctant to recognise the failure of war and violence to achieive even their stated aims.


A second aspect of militarism is the notion that unquestioning obedience is something to be admired.

Militarism has a a corrosive effect on the ability of both children and adults to think for themselves and speak out when they see something wrong. Armies require people to obey orders without question. Someone joining the UK army at the age of 18 - the sort of age at which many of us make decisions that we later regret - is required to stay in the army, obeying orders, until turning 22. At the same time, the UK is the only country in Europe to recruit people to the armed forces at the age of 16.

There can be no more challenging ethical question than the decision to take someone’s life. Of all the reasons that might be given for killing a human being, surely the very weakest explanation is that you killed because someone else told you to.


We are urged to “defend our country” without any discussion of what we even mean by a “country”. Talk of the “national interest” implies that everyone in the UK has the same interests. In reality, it usually means the interests of those with wealth and power. Fighting for a country often means fighting for its leaders.

Militarism diverts our attention away from the real causes of war and injustice. While “defending our country”, we do not ask if we have more in common with the people of “enemy” countries than with our respective governments.

While lambasting our enemies, we do not find out who is making a profit from war. While cheering “our boys”, we give little thought to why a government that can afford to send people to war cannot afford a decent welfare state to support them when they return, along with others in equal need.

And we do not tackle the poverty, exploitation and climate change that are fuelling violent conflict.

EVERYDAY MILITARISMProtest against Armed Forces Day 2015

The last fifteen years have seen a decline in enthusiasm for war amongst the British public, yet at the same time militarism is on the rise. These two developments are connected.

Public support for war has been drastically reduced by the death, waste and lies of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Faced with a lack of support for military conflict, the establishment focuses instead on celebrating the armed forces.

Initiatives such as Armed Forces Day and Troops to Teachers form part of a steady militarisation of British society that has paradoxically developed at the same time as public enthusiasm for war has declined.

Meanwhile, the government has been reducing the numbers in the regular armed forces while seeking to get war on the cheap - by increasing the Army Reserve. But both the reserves and the the regular armed forces are failing to meet their recruitment targets, suggesting that violence and obedience are less popular then some would like to think.
Politicians and generals desperate to increase recruitment are keen to push the militarist messages that help it along.

Examples of everyday militarism range from military visits to schools to the Invictus Games, from recruitment leaflets in cafes to deals with local authorities to grant privileges to military employers.

Perhaps one of the most bizzarre examples the militarisation of apparently progressive movements. Arms companies and armed forces now endorse LGBT events, gaining free publicity by claiming to support the very human rights whose work they undermine.


Arrest at DSEI arms fair protests 2017In some ways, we have a strong peace movement in Britain The campaign against the Iraq war broke records for the numbers involved. Resistance to Trident renewal unites a disparate range of groups. Opposition to arms exports to oppressive rgimes is growing stronger and more visible.

At the same time, we are hampered by a reluctance to criticise war in itself. In resisting Trident, pacifists are happy to march alongside people who do not share their pacifism. But we suggest that Trident is a particularly dreadful symptom of a deeper problem.

Pacifism is about disobedience. It is about saying that we will no longer do as we’re told. We will not go along with the militarist lies. To declare yourself a pacifist - and to sign the peace p
ledge - is an act of rebellion.

Pacifism is a rejection of both violence and passivity, embracing active nonviolence to resist war, oppression and inequality.

Pacifism, however, is about more than an individual refusal to take part in war. Pacifism involves a commitment to humanity, to the real security that comes with human rights, equality and a fair distribution of resources.

Pacifism means tackling the causes of war rather than trying to bomb away the symptoms. We cannot solve the world’s problems by telling children’s stories about goodies and baddies. We need long-term, messy and morally complex processes.

Pacifism involves making links with those working for peace overseas, forging movements that are just as international as the arms companies and military systems that we are struggling against.

Endorsing pacifism is a positive decision to follow a different set of values and to place conscience and humanity above calls for obedience and national loyalty.

The Peace Pledge Union is a union of people who have taken the peace pledge, declaring their refusal to co-operate with war and their desire to work against the causes of war. You can sign the peace pledge here and become a member of the Peace Pledge Union.

  Ex-army personnel run school
  Militarism and remembrance
  Military urbanism
  Militarising education
  Militarism is spreading in Britain
  What covenent? what nation?
  Militarisation of Britain
  Military lessons
  Puplis against militarism
  Take action
  Last one out turn off the lights
making room for peace living history

 External reference
  MoD youth policy pdf
  Recognition of Armed Forces pdf
  MoD Cadet related documents

We are collecting examples of everyday materials - adverts, packaging etc - that use images of violence or armed force to sell products or to promote a brand. If you have examples to share, please email us at mail@ppu.org.uk or tweet @PPUtoday.