Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The NUT, Army Visits and the Rightwing Press

'Teachers declare War on Army' shrieks the Daily Mail headline; following up with:

Teachers yesterday vowed to boycott military recruitment activities in schools - claiming they "glamorise" life in the armed forces.

This article suggests the left-wing NUT- currently conferencing in Manchester- is banning army visits because it is ideologically opposed to the military. Would such a stance be justified? While I can understand the left-wing case against armed forces and war in general, I would strongly rebut the idea that the military is of no use and a 'bad thing'. Anyone familiar with the history of the thirties knows that the Labour Party was initially pacifist and resisted rearmament against the threat of Hitler.

It was the 'realist' trade union types like Ernie Bevin who agreed with the likes of Hugh Dalton and, across the political divide, Winston Churchill, that Hitler represented a threat that would only be resisted with equal or superior force. Eventually Labour came to share this view and the pacifist tradition lay very low until CND came around in the fifties.

Political choices are seldom between 'good' and 'bad' but between 'bad' and 'even worse'. War is always a tragedy but sometimes it has to be risked or exercised in defence of the nation's way of life or security from attack. For this reason it is essential that we have the best possible armed forces which are well trained and looked after in a way commensurate with the sacrifice such men and women are prepared to make. So, if the NUT was arguing along such lines, I think the Mail justified in rubbishing the union's position. Army visits to schools careers days are both justified and necessary to recruit the best people for our armed forces.

However, a quick look at other sources reveals the vaunted 'mouthpiece of Middle England' was misrepresenting the union's argument. According to the BBC's report the union was saying something different:

Teachers have voted to oppose military recruitment activities in schools if they employ "misleading propaganda". Young people must be given a true picture of Army life, not a "marketised version", the National Union of Teachers conference heard.

The key proviso was if 'misleading propaganda' in the form of accompanying work-sheets and the like were to be used. The Guardian report says pretty much the same. So here we have a good example of a right-wing newspaper deliberately misinterpreting a union's actions to make political capital for its cause. Daubing the NUT's vote as foolishly pacifistic would have been justified if correct but setting up a 'straw man' and then setting fire to it is among the favourite devices of those, like the Daily Mail in my view, who seek to confuse and deceive.

Rare for me to disagree with you Bill but I do here.

I'm not defending the Mail's gleeful union-bashing but the inclusion of that little 'if' can't be allowed to trump the whole story here. Read the agenda doc on the NUT website (Motion 48 I think) and it's clear that the original motion believed MOD recruiment materials ARE misleading propoganda effectively by default. Speakers in Manchester talked of balance being achieved if the MOD admitted 'colonization' etc. so this was an overtly political attack on the military along the sort of pacifist lines you mention.

The inclusion of the 'if' reads like a compromise by the executive - its inclusion means the union get to grandstand and indulge in a little student politics but once the fuss has died down nothing will come of it and the MOD will still be allowed in schools. The Mail's piece is, to some extent, a straw man to let them bash the unions but the motion itself and subsequent debates on the floor is likewise there just the indulge that silly pascifistic strain in left-wing politics.
There is another element to the NUT argument, which I heard on the Today programme the other day. It seems the army are deliberately targetting schools in socially-deprived areas. Maybe this makes sense from their point of view but it is rather distasteful. Combined with what is clearly a misleading picture of army life (one needs only look at the TV recruitment ads), it adds up to a reasonable argument for the NUT stance (although some of the speeches from the podium were clearly of the overly simplistic Dave Spart kind and simply play into the hands of The Mail et al). I suppose it has always been true that he army's best recruiting sergeant is the dole queue.
Thanks for that. I'll check out the NUT resolution though suspect you are spot on re the union's 'neo-pacifism' if I can so describe it.
Not sure that such behaviour should be 'distasteful'; the best prospects are needed and lots of youngsters in depressed areas might find a career in the armed forces equips them with marketable skills for their eventual departure. peacetime service provides only a small risk of havingf bullets fly around one's head(now that Blair is no longer PM at least).
I'm afraid I find yours a rose-tinted view Skipper. The army is not a Skills Training Agency (although the idea that it is has always been a recruiting device); squaddies do not typically have a "career" in the army (most serve for a few years then leave and many do so with no real skills that are useful in civvie street); and that the risks are "small" is a little too phlegmatic for my taste, small they may be but they are there, and some hundreds have died in Iraq and Afhanistan, and more were maimed, and most don't hail from Leafy Meadow but from inner-city Grimethorpe. The Blair boys will not get their bollocks blown off in Iraq. So, yes, I find army recruitment targetting on the inner-city comps "distasteful"...Of course, I know it was ever thus...
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