WOKING DEBATES 2019

Over the Top, a play by the Journeymen 
Theatre about militarism in schools
MORE than 35 people came to see Lynn and David Morris perform Over The Top, a 45-minute play which explored the role of military in our schools and society. Over the Top brought the issues vividly to life, as peace activist and war widow Kathy confronted her son’s headteacher over his determination to co-opt her son into an “adventure challenge” with the Army, of the kind now increasingly offered to school students. Dr Roberts is a pragmatic man who can't see the problem and feels engaging with the Army brings nothing but positive advantages to Meadow Springs Academy. There is no slick happy ending to Over the Top. All Kathy’s passion, her bitter experience of bereavement, can’t keep her son from exploring his chosen path, egged on by the “gung-ho” head. The play challenges our attitudes but leaves the final conclusion up to us. The play brought out that the UK Defence Secretary is looking to establish cadet forces in 160 state schools. They will promote teamwork, discipline and respect for authority. In the discussion following it was said the play was very provoking. Everyone has a right to a view and the issues are political. Having a military force is OK, but using it abroad is the problem. Veterans for Peace UK, who David and Lynne consulted in creating the play, emphasise that the military is never trained to be a defence force. All the training is to operate abroad. The ads encouraging people to join stress the chances of going abroad. Do we have a responsibility to all humanity across the planet or do we have an obligation? Russia feels threatened by military manoeuvres on its borders with Latvia. How would we feel about Russia conducting similar manoeuvres in Scotland? We need to think more about who are our enemies and what can we do to prevent them invading us. Why is Russia our enemy? Do we need an enemy? With cyber warfare, the role of conventional troops is becoming less. The arms industry has a huge influence over the military. "Warfare is the continuation of politics by other means.” Many times recently, we have had no clear idea of what we should do when we won a war, as in Iraq and Libya. Even if we agree with the need for armed forces, we should not be targeting children in high unemployment areas. Scouts and guides are sponsored by the armed
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forces. In Dudley, in the West Midlands, the Army has opened an academy which targets children excluded from schools and are difficult to manage. All the teachers are ex military and 50% of their time is spent doing military manoeuvres. Several academy chains are aligned with different regiments. As funding has been cut in schools the Army has come in to fill in some of the gaps. The Army needs squaddies and officers. Universities are targeted to provide the officer class with an offer to pay university fees in return for signing up for three to five years after students finish their degree. Squaddies can enlist at 15 years 9 months for seven years or join up at 18 for three years. Under the Child Soldier Amendment Act, they can only go into the field when they reach 18 – but the UK is one of the very few countries in the world which allow 15 year olds to sign on. Conflict resolution is needed in schools, built into the National Curriculum, to counter knife violence but there is no state funding for this. Whether the school or college has a cadet force or conflict resolution is in the hands of the governors but, in academies, the number of governors is much smaller and the power is often in the people running the chains. In York the cadets organised a family fun day out where they organised a re-enactment where the Army had to control anti fracking campaigners who had got out of control. Is this really suitable for a family fun day out? What scrutiny do we want? It is better to have a disciplined army than war lords. One person who served in the cadets did a year’s course in civil defence. Why do we not have a Peace Force? Why do we glorify war? History teaching is skewed, emphasising the military victories and not how wars begin or their consequences. Why are white poppies contentious? In Birmingham. a school started to sell them along with red poppies and got hate mail and had to stop. There should be a choice in schools of which to buy. White poppies are to remember the deaths of non-combatants in war. The topic of refugees fleeing war was raised. On the island of Lesbos in Greece, there is a pile of life jackets which had been sold to refugees which are useless, as they do not inflate. One hotel which lost all its trade because of the Syrian refugees kept nearby, helped them and it was said did more to help them than the whole of the U.K. Where is our priority? The collection of £135 was given to War Child, a charity working with children affected by war, as Woking Quakers had agreed to pay the costs of the play.


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