Sunday, 29 June 2008

Where Did UK Veterans' Day Suddenly Come From?

I was quite surprised on Friday (27th June) to find that in my diary it had been designated Veterans' Day (UK). No-one seems to know why that day had been picked (the US Veterans' Day is 11th November which is Armistice Day in the UK and Remembrance Day across much of Europe; the UK Remembrance Day is on the nearest Sunday following Armistice Day; in Germany it is on 15th November). It was the day in 1746 when Flora MacDonald helped Charles, the Stuart pretender to the English throne escape and the day in 1940 when USSR invaded Romania and in 1941 when Hungary declared war on the USSR; in 1974 President Richard Nixon arrived in Moscow for historic talks with Nikolai Brezhnev. So not really a day of great British success or conflict. On a more UK note it is the day Tony Benn in 1999 announced his retirement and British actor Hugh Grant was arrested in 1995. It may be supposed to be the last Friday in June, but why have we suddenly got a Veterans' Day anyway? We have Remembrance Day and that has become taken more seriously since the mid-1990s. It is now marked on the actual 11th November with a silence on public transport, in shops and in schools and things, something that was done in continental Europe, notably France and Belgium, but until the mid-1990s everything was reserved for the nearest Sunday, Remembrance Sunday.

Veterans' Day is different, it seems. I was alarmed as unknown to me it was another step that I noted in the UK's path to a police state to begin celebrating militarism to a greater extent. Veterans' Day is about combatants who are still alive. It has been taken right from the USA as 'veteran' in the UK has never been a term associated with soldiers, it is more typically used as a term referring to cars from the early 20th century. The UK government seems compelled not only to ape US foreign policy but also its cultural policies too.

Clearly I do not read the right newspapers to pick up on such developments as Veterans' Day because I had seen nothing about it until it appeared last week, though clearly it had been scheduled last year when the 2008 diaries were being printed. Perhaps they are sneaking it in quietly so that it does not face challenges. The only event I heard about on the radio was that 6 police officers in Hampshire who had formerly been soldiers had been awarded commemorative medals, they were picked at random. Hampshire is a very militarised county it has Aldershot at the North end of the county, a major Army centre in southern England and there are 5 regiments based at Winchester in Central Hampshire and it also has a lot of connections with the Navy too through Portsmouth. So if there were no marking events there I doubt there would be any elsewhere. This of course might change in the coming years.

What is this Veterans Day about? Well, earlier in the year the government said it wanted to raise the profile of the military in British society. Britain has always been a very militarised society and soldiers are highly respected, though in recent years young men have also seen them as an easy target for attacking too as a kind of challenge. As a result wearing uniforms in public has fallen away but is now being actively encouraged. The key thing is that Britain has been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003 and the steady rate of deaths in both countries as well as in locations like Kosovo constantly need replacing. The Territorial Army which is the part-time force is really being used all the time now as a reserve force with many units serving long periods outside the UK. If the UK wants to sustain its military involvement across the world, then it has to keep up its level of recruiting. Unemployment has been low for many years now, so young men and, increasingly, women are not being driven into the armed forces in the way they have been in previous decades by economic pressure. Of course making higher education inaccessible to working and lower middle class people will help boost recruitment and I imagine soon we will see an increase in military scholarships.

So, given that young men are attacking soldiers rather than wanting to join them, the government has decided to adopt this proactive approach, however softly they start it. It also fits in with the steps that are being taken towards a police state by bringing more of the population into uniform and raising their status amongst the populous. This helps establish an attitude of deference to authority which the government fears is lacking especially among young males with whom it has had particular issues and who have been the main target of ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders). More uniforms on the streets also cows people from protesting or 'causing trouble', so it is a natural development; another step down the path the UK is taking to an authoritarian state.

How do you really respect military personnel? Not by giving them some made up day seemingly picked at random, but actually supplying them with decent equipment and support so that they are not so easily killed as they are being in both Afghanistan and Iraq, not only by fire but through accidents. I have no issue respecting the military, but I think there is an issue about how they are used, the way they have been used in authoritarian states before, to represent the government and its strength; to intimidate people, however implicitly, through their presence. No case has been made publicly for having a Veterans' Day. Its name seems out of step with UK terminology and it seems to have been sneaked in without discussion about what it is supposed to achieve. If there was genuine support for such a day, then surely the government could have done it with more pride and arranging proper events. This is why I am very suspicious that it has very little to do with serving service people and more to do with the government's continuing attempts to suppress liberty in UK society.

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