Meeting the military
Writing on the Roman Triumph has opened some very unexpected doors. I’m hoping to be able to report from the Emmy awards in Los Angeles in September (courtesy of the Triumph). But meanwhile, on Friday, I’m off to talk at RUSI (the Royal United Service Institute for Defence and Security Studies, founded by none other than the Duke of Wellington).
As a bit of a wobbly pacifist, I’m slightly surprised at myself for having invested (so apparently sympathetically) into the dilemmas of Roman warfare. Indeed I must also confess to having a bit of a soft spot for intellectual soldiers (the sort that end up as Bursars of Cambridge colleges). They always seem to have better moral credentials when it comes to warfare than I do (a bit like the atheist clerics who end up as chaplains of Oxbridge colleges – a worthy tradition stretching back at least to the eighteenth century).
This is a romantic sensibility I must have inherited. For I also have a cousin who was once married to frontline member of the SAS, who managed to charm my mother (a far more hard-line pacifist that I am). Even she would somehow manage to overlook what this guy had done in the Iranian embassy siege, because he could intellectualise the moral problems so nicely (and help with the washing up).
The trouble is that smart generals and clever SAS boys are one thing; most other aspects of the military seem not so appealing.
Notwithstanding my flirtations with uniforms, I have no doubt that the NUT has a point in thinking to make the recruiting sergeant a persona non grata from British schools More than that, the idea that we should be exporting the CCF to state schools (at the same time as we are trying to counter ‘gun culture’) is simply bonkers.
I wonder if any of these New Labour enthusiasts for the CCF have any experience of it. I remember visiting the sixth-form ‘taster evening” at the son’s school (an excellent ex-direct grant school), to be greeted by a host of teenagers dressed in camouflage clothes and smudgy faces, with the odd bit of tree stuck in their hair. They looked very silly. But the encounter was predictable. They spoke eagerly about the parachuting opportunities, and looked blank when I asked what they thought about going and dropping bombs on Iraqi civilians.
As usual, when it came to it, the alternatives to CCF were made as unglamorous as possible, There was granny-bashing, writing letters for Amnesty, helping out with reading in the junior school, litter-picking (hardly beats parachuting does it?). But the real downer was that you weren’t allowed to stay at any of these activities for longer than a term. Non-CCF activities had a compulsory rotation. No follow through – so no seeing what had actually happened to your prisoner/granny/8-year old.
When I wrote and said that I assumed that the military types would also rotate from army to air-force to navy, I didn’t get a wholly satisfactory reply!
Shouldn’t we save state school kids from this awful institution.