On Armed Forces Day, 2010

21 June, 2010

Last Saturday was a lovely day so we went to the seaside. Scarborough in fact. Arriving in this still distinctive traditional English seaside spa town we realised something was going on – ooh a festival, a fête, a carnival, a Lord Mayor’s parade? No silly, Armed Forces Day.
What’s going on here then? Parachutists dropping rather beautifully on the beach, a WW2 spitfire doing acrobatics, coastguard doing a rescue. Cadets everywhere. Sales of camouflage clothing.
And a parade. Recently returned soldiers from Afghanistan. Give them a big hand. And there were similar things in the cities and towns throughout the land.
What’s going on?
I’d say this is not something we’ve had before. Yes we’ve had armistice day and quite right to commemorate the senseless slaughter of (mostly) working class young men (city dwellers in Dresden or peasants in Bengal don’t get a look in of course). But this Armed Forces day is a different ideological flavour altogether. It is the normalisation of military adventure, or imperial projects, of weaponry. The legitimation strategies are interesting. In Scarborough they (consciously or unconsciously? it doesn’t matter) used the appeal to the great antifascist war 1939-45 and the defence of Britain – the Battle of Britain, the many owing so much to the few – iconically in the spitfire’s ducking, diving, rolling and flipping above us as we ate our picnic by Anne Bronte’s grave. They used the parachutists (paratroopers) display of skill – as legitimation of what is the shock troop of an invading, imperialist army. They used the air-sea rescue (even the charitable lifeboat was out of its shed) to suggest the humanitarian side of the military.
The population seemed to be split between those who stood and applauded – in solidarity with wasted lives, or in jingoistic affirmation of might, those who got on with their day at the seaside (the Muslims bathing in full clothing, the people working, and those who’d come for sun, sea and ice cream) and the few like me who seethed and had to be careful not to make loud comments about imperialist adventures and propaganda as we strode on looking at anything but the parade of young men many of whom are in the army because this economy has no better use for them.
Am I over-conspiratorial or is this the re-militarisation of our society in preparation for unrest as it melts down under the recession with its Tory-neoliberal cuts, climate change and energy scarcity?

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