It’s pretty grim out there in the world. War has been on my mind, not because it’s something I like to think about but because it seems to be on the news daily and although it’s hard to be sure, it seems to be getting worse.
I’m part of the post war generation old enough to understand that war is awful without having had to live through it. A friend once described my generation’s experience of war as walking into a cinema just after the film has finished but knowing that it was incredibly painful for those who were there.
We’re a generation – especially in Europe, and even more so in Western Europe – who thought this would never happen to us. And so far, in some ways, of course it hasn’t.
We kid ourselves, though, if we think there’s no war. And it is happening in a number of different ways all of which affect us and other people in different ways.
I am reminded of John Woolman’s famous quote: ‘May we look upon our treasures, the furniture of our houses, and our garments, and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions.’
First, there is the language that is being used. Whatever problem we face we seem to be waging war on it: the war on drugs, on terrorism, on gangs, on poverty, on disease, on cancer, and probably of all sorts of other things you can think of. We even have a well-respected charity in the UK named ‘War on Want’. And whilst we all know what we mean by that ‘war on…’ phrase, maybe we should stop and think before we use it.
Then there is the endless coverage of fighting in all sorts of places. And it’s not just actual wars. It’s whatever happens to be today’s worst atrocity. Hours and pages of media exposure; it gives those who would perpetrate these acts (which are crimes) the oxygen of publicity. That’s what they want. It has a double effect: it gives them their moment of fame (and glory) and thereby acts as a recruitment tool; and it makes the rest of us nervous and fearful. And on the back of both our governments find ways to restrict our freedoms, the very freedoms we are supposedly defending and which are supposedly under attack from those who wreak carnage on the world.
There are the stories of the victims; the refugees, the orphans, the maimed, the people who have lost their homes, their livelihood, their often already few possessions. We see them briefly. In tents in the snow in Syria; covered in burkas in Nigeria (that’s if they are women that have been captured by Boko Haram). They don’t often hold the limelight for long. They are soon forgotten in the rush to cover the next atrocity.
They never really get a voice. They often are just seen as ‘victims’: and to make them ‘innocent’ victims they generally have to be young or old, and preferably women.
What if we heard their views clearly? What if the media named each victim who is known? What if their stories, the way they are affected by the mayhem around them was the focus of the media coverage? Maybe that would have a different kind of impact on those who might be tempted to get involved in violence, be that in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, or on the streets of Paris, Copenhagen or London.
And of course, we must not forget the fact that our own society is being militarised. That too has an impact on war and the rumours of war.
And this has been stepped up quite significantly. The 2014 Quaker Peace and Social Witness publication: The New Tide of Militarisation shows this clearly including:
- A programme costing £ 10.85 m to expand cadet forces in state schools
- A programme of fast-tracking ex-military personnel into the education system
- Statements by government ministers such as ‘Every child can benefit from the values of a military ethos.’ (Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State for Education)
- The introduction of an ‘Armed Forces Day’
- The increasing insistence that anyone in the public eye (especially on TV) has to wear a red poppy during the run-up to Remembrance Day
- The prominent role of the military in the security arrangements around the 2012 Olympics – including a warship moored in the Thames.
The publication has much more information and is well worth a read.
But the point here is: if we allow our world to be militarized to the extent that it is, then we must not be surprised that we are confronted daily with violence and war. If we do not understand that violence is violence and war is war (and it doesn’t matter who perpetrates the violence and war for what end) then we will continue to have war and rumours of war.
So we need to become much more active in challenging the use of military language, the militarisation or our society, the effective glorification of violence in the media by hyped up reporting of atrocities and neglect of the reality for the victims.
We must also continue to work on the root causes of violence and of unrest. We have much to do.