Editorial: State militarism: militarisation beyond the armed forces

Hannah Brock

In the office, daily media alerts send us news of conscientious objectors, child soldiers, peace activists and nonviolent direct action around the world. One day, it was the news that in Birmingham - England's second largest city – soldiers from the 'Royal Military Police' (aka the 'red caps') were 'keeping clubbers safe' in the city centre. That is, arresting soldiers on nights out, or giving 'citizens arrests' to civilians who they thought were breaking the law.

The article, from West Midlands police, finishes '“They add to the diversity of the area and people love to see our troops. Just like the song ‘All nice girls love a sailor’ well in this case all nice girls love a Red Cap!"' We wondered whether a direct action arresting those 'Red caps' who arrest citizens might be a fun evening out...

Perhaps inevitably, many of the articles in this edition are about police militarisation. Whether in South Africa (article by Laura Pollecut), Britain (article by Betsy Barkas), Turkey (written by WRI's new staff member Semih Sapmaz) or the USA (piece from War Resisters League's Ali Issa and Tara Tabassi), police forces are a form of social control. They lend themselves to being dragged along the spectrum of violence and militarisation towards more visible and immediate brutality, usually on the basis of how threatened those with power feel their privilege to be. The point of police forces is coercion (whether through direct violence, restraint, or the threat of punishment): to keep the people in line, for better or worse. 

Other articles in this edition of The Broken Rifle show militarisation infiltrating state functions far beyond the armed forces or the police: we have Cesar Padilla on the militarisation of extractive industries in Latin America, Prasanna Ratnayake on militarisation in Sri Lanka over the last ten years, and Maren Mantovani (of Stop the Wall) and Henrique Sanchez (of MOPAT - Movimento Palestina para Tod@s) on the 'security' services provided by Israeli companies across the world. Frances Guy shares experiences of working in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, focusing on the relationship between delivery of humanitarian assistance after (often militarily-created) crises, and 'security' and 'defence'.

You cannot keep the lid on the logic that militarism rests on - the control by violence, hierarchical uniformity, the racism, patriarchy and nationalism that makes it all possible, as well as – of course – reliance on weapons. It spills into the education system, architecture and public spaces, culture and entertainment, health care (in short, into everything) as this collection of articles demonstrates. And of course, 'keeping the lid' on militarism is not at all the point anyway. The lie that the existence of armed forces both keeps the rest of us safe, and prevents us from having to take up arms ourselves (essentially limiting militarism, confining it to a small 'band of brothers' so the rest of us can go about our non-militarised business), is both pervasive and ridiculous.

On social media we try and highlight these instances of militarism all around us using #EverydayMilitarism. Seeing something everyday, it's hard either to notice or reject it. Like a fish in water, you do not feel the weight. In our work on youth militarisation, we are logging the ways that young people get exposed to that militarism so early, and the things we are doing to resist this. Look at our website here to read more.