Saturday, 26 March 2016
Listening to Feedback on Radio 4 on the drive home from work last night I caught a few listeners’ comments about a programme, broadcast earlier in the week, about the reintroduction of the Combined Cadet Force to schools, especially in poorer areas. You would think, given the general malaise around national identity, personal discipline and focus in young lives that a proven way of instilling good old qualities of self-development and team work in a structured, voluntary, extra-curricular programme would be welcomed.
After all, many children grow into young adults with little in the way of ambition or drive and little in the way of contribution to offer society, so channelling their energies and letting them experience being part of a bigger movement ought to be a force for good, right? But no, the comments aired were wholly of the negative variety, based around the horror of children being subject to harsh military training and how that might undo decades of gently instilling a more caring ethos.
That the complainants had never experienced cadet training was evident – harsh military training? Back in the sixties and seventies almost every kid joined some such corps and got a lot out of it. Cubs, Scouts, Boys’ Brigade and various cadet forces did not turn their cohorts into bloodthirsty young savages. Quite the reverse as all these groups had a strong traditional emphasis on personal standards, local community and charity.
If anything, military-based youth training turned out polite, self-confident, resourceful individuals, only a few of whom then went on to join the actual armed forces. In the absence of National Service it was also a less forceful way of maintaining the necessary connection and understanding between the huge civilian population and the relatively small number of predominantly young people who put their lives on the line on their behalf. Once, we were proud of our uniformed volunteers; today many of the population at large view them with unconcealed disdain.
Given the times we find ourselves in, anything which provides a sense of belonging, of being part of something more important than self, of strengthening national identity, is surely to be welcomed. Why should we feel ashamed of being British? Why should we persist in the socialist experiment of dismantling all that was once good about our country and replacing it with... with what, exactly? Because here’s the point: If there is no bigger thing than you, what price nationhood? What do you believe in? What do you vote for? When you talk about British values what, exactly, do you mean? What would you fight to preserve?
You may have spent the formative years of your life online, imagining yourself to be part of the global village but you’re not. No matter what level of your favourite, obsessive, kill-everything-on-the-screen platform you attain you are still just a sad, disconnected kid in a bedroom with no real friends to share things with, no real world scars to discuss. You can share as many extreme YouTube clips as you like, but until you’ve sniffed the air and grazed your knees alongside real-life companions and dare I say it, comrades, you have no experience worthy of the name.
It will only be like this in Hackney. And a few other places...
Military Cadets isn’t military service. Yes, occasionally they may play at soldiers but mostly it’s a bunch of energetic young people learning to work together, to rely on each other and discovering their own strengths, interests and talents. What right-thinking parents could possibly deny their children that?