Friday, 21 May 2010

Nursery militarism - Us and Them

"Listen son, said the man with the gun
There's room for you inside"

My thanks to Simon, a Media Lens contributor, for posting this revealing email letter received from his two year-old child's nursery:

We’re Busy helping our Heroes at Nursery!

Dear parent/guardian

Busy Bees Nurseries in our region are holding special Heroes open weeks across the UK to celebrate local heroes in our community, and raise vital funds for the Help for Heroes charity to support British soldiers wounded in service.

from the 7th – 11th June, the nursery will be holding a special Heroes Open Week, when the children will be taking part in various hero-themed activities including a march around the nursery garden, an assault course, and a creative day, where children will have the chance to make cards and presents for their Dads, just in time for Father’s Day! Special visits from firemen, nurses, and policemen and other community and Nursery heroes will also take place throughout the week, sharing their skills and knowledge with the children.

The climax of the Heroes Open Week will be a ‘Family Fun Day in aid of Help for Heroes, on Saturday 12th June. This exciting event will include a one minute silence at 12pm in remembrance of all the brave soldiers who have served for their country, followed by a superheroes fancy dress parade.

We hope you can support this fantastic fundraiser by coming down to nursery on the 12th June for a spectacular event the whole family can enjoy!

Yours sincerely

The Busy Bees Team

Simon objects to his child being selectively exposed to this kind of militaristic display and 'Hero' ethic. While happy to see people from the emergency services present, he believes this "goes way beyond that". Simon is concerned at the prospect of his little one marching around a nursery building, military style, and being urged to negotiate assault courses.

I share his concern. It's deeply disturbing that such innocent minds can be inculcated in this way; indeed, one might reasonably view it as a form of child abuse.

But it's symptomatic of the intensified popular militarism we're currently seeing and the darker ways in which the 'Heroes' agenda serves to authenticate brutal and illegal wars.

I had a useful chat, in passing, the other day with a Help for Heroes collector. I asked her whether injured, traumatised, bereaved and displaced Iraqis and Afghans could also be considered heroes and worthy of support. She said that would be "controversial" and that "in time of war, we have to support our own."

I suggested that all human beings, irrespective of ethnicity or state, should be regarded as "our own", that "we're all the same human beings worthy of equal care and empathy." She accepted the point, agreeing that there are many victims of war, but that our priority is still with "ours".

"Ours." 'Us' and 'Them'. What ideological assumptions and 'educational' values lie behind those words? Only the lives and well-being of 'our' soldiers seemingly matter, not the tragedy and suffering of civilian and - yes, dare I say it - military 'others'.

Charity, some say, should begin at home. That's often a convenient pretext for downgrading or ignoring the suffering of those 'we' consider 'them.' Despite its proclaimed intentions, Help for Heroes is part of that same 'our boys' jingoism peddled by 'our' political elite and obedient media to excuse and sanitise violent and unconscionable actions against those 'others'.

The irony is important: it is they, 'our' rulers and controllers, who, in thought and deed, are actually foreign to many, probably most, peace-seeking citizens of the planet. As was massively articulated on streets around the world, the warmongers do not speak in 'our' name.

Help for Heroes claims it is not political. Judge for yourself from the appeal presented in their handout leaflet:

"The charity was launched in October 2007 and, with the backing of celebrities, including Jeremy and Francie Clarkson, The Royal Family, The Media [sic] and countless ordinary decent people, it has raised over £1 million since then.

The message is simple, H4H does not seek to criticise or be political, we simply want to help and to do so by asking everyone to do their bit to raise money. Once that money is raised, we go to the experts in the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force for guidance as to how best to spend it. It is our intention to spend all we raise on the practical, direct support of those wounded in the service of our country since 9/11."

The much-loaded last line here should alert us to HfH's disingenuous claim that we can somehow remain apolitical about these wars and still support 'our troops'. The problem, again, is with the fabricated notion of 'ours' and the way in which "help" for individuals becomes synonymous with unquestioned "support" for "our country", in effect, an unquestioning endorsement of those who have led "our country" to war.

While it is, indeed, possible, and compassionate, to help suffering soldiers, just like any other person, the language used by HfH gives added legitimacy to Britain's aggressive wars and the culture of militarism, more generally.

HfH's online Q&A offers further "non judgemental" disclaimers:

Are you criticizing the way the Government supports the blokes?
No, we are non judgmental. If we fundraise for our local hospital’s CAT scanner or Air Ambulance we do it because we want to help enhance facilities. It is not an implicit criticism of the NHS; it is a welcome additional facility.

Is H4H politically motivated?
No, H4H is strictly non political and accepts that wars happen under any Government. H4H seeks to support those people wounded in war, not to criticise the reasons for those conflicts. We accept that wars happen, they are brutal and servicemen and women are injured, we can’t prevent that but we can help them recover and that is our focus. We are a fund raising organisation that seeks to support our blokes; it’s as simple as that.

If only it was that simple and non-political. HfH really could, if it chose, "criticise the reasons for those conflicts", thereby helping, even in some small way, to "prevent" more of them happening - in turn, preventing more human suffering and the need for aid. But, of course, that would be anathema to its core allegiances. One need only peruse the list of this organisation's trustees and patrons to see where its essential politics and agenda lie.

We can be sure that Help for Heroes would not get the sponsorship of the establishment and royalty, the patronage of the armed forces or the favoured exposure of "The Media" were it an avowedly anti-war body loudly decrying the press-ganging of young, economically insecure people and lack of state support for injured soldiers.

My exchange with the collector ended amicably, with her also questioning the usefulness of the war in Afghanistan and me repeating my sympathy for wounded combatants from all sides, but reminding her that while 'our' service-people are, indeed, victims, they are also - contrary to the ideological message from Help for Heroes - part of a violent military force engaged in two illegal invasions.

In the same sympathetic vein, I believe she is also a victim, a victim of the cultural propaganda which serves to legitimise war, militarism and the selective interpretation of who is worthy of our help and compassion.

Meanwhile, Simon has written, in good conscience, to his child's nursery challenging its planned displays of militarism. His complaint has been passed on to the group's regional operations director for consideration.

It often takes not a little courage to defy 'educational' convention and other parents' polite or 'dutiful' acceptance of such events. Indeed, risking possible social estrangement in doing so is a little heroic statement in itself.


* Busy Bees is currently owned by the US-Singaporean corporation Knowledge Universe, which was co-founded by Michael Milken, the convicted US junk bond dealer and model for Oliver Stone's character Gordon "greed is good" Gecko in the film Wall Street.

(Thanks to Mary for this information.)

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