Around 60 state schools and 200 independent schools currently have cadet programmes, which allow pupils aged between 13 and 18 to take part in military-style activities. Teenagers learn drill and are trained to fire weapons.
Now all secondary schools in Britain could get cadet forces under plans being considered by Education Secretary Michael Gove. "I've tasked the Children's Minister to work with Nick Harvey at the Ministry of Defence to bring this to all schools and they are very keen to roll it out."
Plans to increase the number of cadet forces at schools around the UK were mooted late last year as the government prepared to roll out its 'Troops for Teachers' campaign, but this is the first time it has been suggested all secondary schools could have cadets.
The UK now recruits the youngest soldiers in Europe, with a minimum recruitment age of just 16 years. Despite a general policy not to send soldiers into war until they are 18, the Ministry of Defence has always reserved the power to deploy younger recruits in certain circumstances. Children's rights groups including Child Soldiers International, UNICEF UK, the Children's Society, the Children's Rights Alliance for England, and Children in Scotland are campaigning for the Ministry of Defence to raise the armed forces’ recruitment age to 18, in line with standard international practice.
"As long as the Ministry of Defence continues to target minors for recruitment, they will continue to be at risk of unlawful deployment" said Martin Macpherson, interim Director of Child Soldiers International.
This interview with Ben Griffin, spokesman for Veterans for Peace, and former SAS soldier is of interest
Press TV: Militarization in UK schools, this is one of the campaigns I know the Veterans of Peace are concerned about. What is militarization in UK schools? What are they doing in Britain schools?
Griffin: For the last couple of years I have been working with an organization called ForcesWatch which looks into recruitment practices of the British army. And something they have come across, and I have come across -- who are working for them -- is how the military is starting to push into schools to take over lessons and to try and to push the idea that the military and becoming a soldier is a sort of honorable career option for the UK students.
Press TV: Haven't they always done that?
Griffin: For the last ten years they have been following the American model. If you go to America, you will have recruiting sergeants walking down the corridors; you will have posters up; there will be videos and films shown to school kids.
Recruitment in Britain has historically been outside of the school, I remember myself going to a country fair when I was 7 and seeing a bloke jump out of an airplane and then get into play with the guns on a stool.
Press TV: That is how it is done. In fact, I saw there was one piece saying how they do it in Britain. Recruitment strategies offered by the British Army saying, “Our new model is about raising awareness, and that takes a ten-year span. It starts with a seven-year-old boy seeing a parachutist at an air show and thinking, 'That looks great,'” as a means of qualifying what they might have heard about Iraq and Afghanistan.
Griffin: Yes. In my opinion, the recruiter goes into the schools, and this is not a first contact with the military. We are living in a militarized society.
I remember when I was 5 my granddad put me on his knees, showed me his medals, told me about what he had done in World War II and that started in me a sort of idea that the military was a noble profession, and what Britain did in the world was always right. You know, this was my granddad and he was not a bad person.
And then you get this “drip, drip, drip” of indoctrination over the years, war films on a Sunday afternoon, and meeting soldiers at a country fair.
And when the recruiters go into the schools, they are just reinforcing what the mainstream media is pushing all the time, you know, that our soldiers are heroes and they can do no wrong.
Press TV: Some of our interviewers who are in Manhattan or in Knightsbridge or on the Champs-Elysées will be saying these richer areas do not seem recognize anything of what you are saying, that not many army recruitment officers are in these richer parts of town -- any explanation?
Griffin: Well, recruitment within the UK and the British Army as a whole is actually very skewed. When I was in the army, I was not in a local regiment. I was in the parachute regiment, first, which recruits them all over the UK. But most of the voices you would hear would be Welsh, from the north of England, from Scotland and from Ireland.
So, people are recruited into the army from these areas probably because there are fewer job opportunities in those areas. If you are from the affluent southeast, you are less likely to join the army.
Press TV: Although, you've been saying, you did some work for ForcesWatch, they did applaud the closing down of an office in Hackney. Why do you think they would be in Hackney recruiting people for the army?
Griffin: The army had this idea that there is this untouched resource of people or children from backgrounds who might not have a history of joining the army, maybe from ethnic minorities.
And they thought that they could go into Hackney and maybe take advantage of the fact that there was not many employment opportunities, maybe the kids can afford to stay on in school. So they'd open a showroom and try and sort of indoctrinate the kids to think the army was a good choice.
You know, they had things in their like computer games that you could play that sort of glorified war and simplified the whole process of killing and war.
Press TV: It is absolutely bizarre, I think, to some of our viewers. Certainly, I think all of this, especially in the context of the riots, I suppose there will be government schemes saying put more of these army recruitment officers into the areas seen as deprived to stop them rioting.
Griffin: Which is actually a crazy idea. I think part of the reason we've seen such extreme violence over the last few days is, you know, for ten years our government has been acting in a violent and lawless way on the international stage. What kind of example is that saying to the youths of our country?
You know, the politicians are saying it is ok go to a country, bomb it, steal stuff and kill people. What sort of example is that saying to our youth?
Press TV: Well, some would say that we need an army and where else are we going to recruit them from but the youth of this country. Although, you say that Britain is slightly unusual in regards to the European Union specifically in terms of the age of the soldiers. 'Child soldiers' is quite an emotive term there.
Griffin: I think Britain is alone within the European Union in recruiting under 18.
Press TV: 15 and seven months...
Griffin: Yeah. They're recruiting kids who are not allowed to smoke, drink or vote. These kids...I do not think you could actually say that their opinions were truly formed and they had a real idea of what they are getting into.
So, the British army takes advantage of these young adults, these children before they get to 18 or 19 when, maybe, they have actually realized that the army is not the option for them.
Press TV: Tell us about Veteran For Peace, this new organization.
Griffin: For a long time I've been working within the peace organization working with veterans, and I've felt there's a need for an organization run by veterans for veterans in opposing war.
I think it's a powerful message when veterans come out and speak up against wars. We've been there, we know what these wars are like and that's why I wanted to start the organization off. We're still small in numbers now but I'm hoping to grow the organization over the next year.
Press TV: Will you encourage people to join the army who are watching this in, say, Britain at the moment?
Griffin: No, I wouldn't encourage anyone to join the army. I was speaking Tory MP, Patrick Mercer not too long ago and he was telling me about all the advantages of being in the army -- the comradeship and the travel abroad. But he failed to mention the disadvantages when you leave the army.
The army provides you housing, the army provides you comradeship, and the army provides you money and travel, but all of that stops when you leave the army. And then you're left to pick up the pieces yourself.
A lot of the skills you learn in the army aren't transferable to civilian life. A lot of veterans are left with alcohol problems and mental health problems. 10 percent of the prison population is made up of veterans.
The after effects, as it were, of serving in the army are not so advertised beforehand.
Press TV: We've had Stuart Tuttle on the program and he seemed to be saying that even the funeral costs that we watched on Wootton Bassett were not paid for by the army. Why do you think veterans are so unable to get those benefits for themselves and their families when they return from service?
Griffin: The army recruits from poor parts of the country on the whole. These are people who aren't represented in parliament, really. Their views are not taken seriously. Once the army has used these people, they're expendable.
When I first joined the army, we were seen as second class citizens. We couldn't get into certain pubs, certain clubs. We were looked down on. That's changed over the last few years, probably for the worst, actually. They are now being seen as these heroes that can do no wrong. I think that Britain's got a long history of not looking after its veterans.
Press TV: There are, of course, some other cases coming up now about mistreatment of people by British soldiers. You were in the SAS, you were in the services, are you surprised that British soldiers are being seen, certainly around the world, as people engaged in practices that are banned by UN conventions?
Griffin: I'm not allowed to talk about certain things that I know as a result of my services due to a high court injunction. But what I can say is that when we came into Iraq there was this message being pushed that British forces would somehow act as a break on the American forces, to stop them from going too far, to calm it all down.
Press TV: The British forces are better than the American forces-better trained?
Griffin: Yeah. I think the reality on the ground was that a force that is only 10 percent of the size of the Americans is not going to influence the larger force. If anything, it's the larger force that's going to influence the smaller force.
And I think the British have become more like the Americans in the last 10 years. You can see that now with the deployment of our own predator drones in Afghanistan. Rather than putting a break on the Americans, we've actually just become more like them.
Press TV: And as they keep cutting, as part of the general austerity cuts, the army, navy, air force, and marines, how do you see this progressing in terms of the British armed services?
Griffin: Britain is faced with a huge deficit. We're short of money. We're having to cut spending, we'll have to raise taxes at some point. And yet we've still got this huge military -- in proportion, much bigger than countries to a similar size of our own.
And we've still got this hang-up over empire, like somehow we're this world's policemen that should be sorting out other people's problems. And I think that as a country we've got to grow up a bit and realize that other people's business is not our own. And we should concentrate more on our own country.
I think that, actually, people around the world are a bit fed up with us now, fed up with us interfering in other people's business.
Press TV: Of course, some people were saying that the recent riots here in Britain should have been policed by the army, would you have supported that?
Griffin: No. I wouldn't have supported that. I don't think it's ever a good idea to bring the army into domestic politics in any country. That would probably be a backwards step. I think the police should have just handled it a bit better, maybe they didn't take it seriously enough at the start.