Letter in BFP re Armed Forces Day

Armed Forces Day has prompted us to write this letter, which was published in the Bury Free Press on Friday 16 June.

Armed Forces Day this year will of necessity be a rather more low-key event than usual as we avoid large gatherings and do our best to protect each other from exposure to the coronavirus. For the same reason, Bury Quakers will not be holding our customary silent act of witness for peace-making and conflict resolution.

Instead, we would like to invite consideration of the present threats to our well-being, both individual and collective. The Covid-19 pandemic and the recent fires and floods have made plain our vulnerability to dangers from which military hardware cannot protect us. The brutal killing of George Floyd in Minnesota has revealed the fault-line of racial and social injustice which runs through our societies.

There is an urgent need to adapt our priorities to a rapidly changing world. Growing military expenditure, particularly on the Trident weapons system, is of dubious economic as well as moral value in a world of small terrorist cells, lone gunmen and cyber warfare. Complacency on issues of justice and peace generates civic unrest and terrorism, whilst our heedless exploitation of the natural world is delivering existential threats which cannot be defeated by military force. It is time to reconsider our priorities as to what constitutes security and how we may build and sustain it.

The values of co-operation have become more apparent in this time of crisis. Maybe, in the period before we decide we either want or need extravagant displays of military pageantry in June 2021, we could encourage a national conversation on civil-society organisations and their potential for growing mutual security by non-violent means.

If even a small part of the money which is spent on the Armed Forces was to be invested in peacemaking, conflict resolution, nation building, dialogue and civic service, the concept of ‘unarmed forces’ could become central to political and diplomatic thinking. Perhaps we could also start celebrating forces such as these in the coming years.