After a fortnight of fruitless communication with Wrexham County Borough Council over its support for and promotion of an event that we knew would be used by military recruiters to target young children, a small group gathered on Llwyn Isaf on Saturday with a 'Peace Presence' at Armed Forces Day.
Remember all the victims of war
After a brief stop at the War Memorial to remember all the victims of war, banners reading WAR IS NOT FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT and THE FIRST CASUALTY OF WAR IS TRUTH were displayed along with peace flags on the railings of the library field. Hundreds of leaflets making the link between weaponry children have been invited to play on and the innocent victims of those weapons were distributed. The leaflets also outlined the greater risks to the mental health of those who sign up as children, a risk compounded for recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds.
If you're going to celebrate, celebrate Chelsea Manning
A placard for Welsh-American whistleblower Chelsea Manning also attracted interest: ON ARMED FORCES DAY CELEBRATE CHELSEA MANNING WHO HAD THE COURAGE TO TELL US THE TRUTH ABOUT THE WARS. Supporters in Wrexham are involved in ongoing solidarity with Chelsea who is serving a 35 year sentence in a US military prison and look after a fund to help Welsh family members with the cost of transatlantic prison visits.
The Royal Welsh, guns and kids
The protest on the field was later moved to a recruitment stall on Queen's Square where members of the Royal Welsh Regiment were showing small children how to fire a range of guns. This is precisely the sort of activity the military sees nothing wrong with and why Wrexham Peace & Justice Forum and others were making representations to the council about Armed Forces Day. Protesters stood in front of the stall with the banner WAR IS NOT FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT, handed out leaflets to everyone in the vicinity and engaged in more conversations to explain their actions, particularly to assembled parents.
Still waiting for a proper response from the council
Wrexham County Borough Council has still to provide a satisfactory response to the concerns raised by over 100 individuals and groups on 8 June. 'Armed Forces Champion' Cllr. David Griffiths did issue a statement last week, but failed to address the central concern over military recruitment activity aimed at children. (see this previous post for full correspondence and details).
Impressions of the day
Some of those involved have given their impressions of Armed Forces Day.
Joan Meredith: "pure violence"
I came away from the Armed Forces Day in Wrexham yesterday feeling very fearful of the kind of future that lies in store for our young children. As a nation we already rate low when, compared with other countries, in the way we educate, treat and care for our children. There was no sense on Saturday that our children were being urged to fight for peace, justice and democracy. The pervading values were adult ones of pure violence. Children as young as three years old were being exploited. I came away feeling ashamed to be British.
Averil Wood: "the horror of 'the children's corner'
A lovely sunny day in the park, bands playing,choirs singing families picnicking on the grass, some groups of very young cadets, looking a little as tho' they wondered what it was all about. Some people were very happy to talk to us about why we were there and share their views and all this spoiled by the horror of 'the children's corner' quite a discreet distance from the main park but very busy with 'the military' enthusiastically demonstrating guns and other killing machines to very small children, I found it obscene and just staggering that parents seemed not to realise that their children were being brainwashed. This would only have been acceptable if they'd balanced it with a realistic mock up of the horrendous injuries so many young soldiers experienced - if they managed to come home at all. Perhaps that should be our project??
George Miller: "Leave those kids alone!"
'Guns are toys, war is fun, and you’re never to young to get started.' That was the clear message coming from the Armed Forces Day in Wrexham yesterday, as troops of youngsters paraded in their smart uniforms, and kindly, avuncular soldiers from the Royal Welsh explained the workings of rocket launchers and sub machine guns to children as young as five or six, photographed by proud parents. There were no health warnings. No one explained to the children that thousands just like them, who might have been their friends and playmates, had been killed or maimed by these weapons, or reminded the parents of the many hundreds here, and thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, who are mourning the loss of their loved ones in unjust wars that have achieved only further violence and suffering. Cllr David Griffiths, Armed Forces Defender, gave a stirring address, but we peace protesters were the ones who truly had the interests of our service people at heart, for the young to be protected from what can only be described as a form of child abuse, and more people to understand the true nature, costs and consequences of today’s military agenda. As expected we got a few verbal brickbats (one outraged patriot told me I was a terrorist and should be in Guantanamo), but we were not without support. An old soldier, who’d joined up just after the war and served in many places, was very sympathetic, and described a recent British prime minister as a war criminal who should be sent to the Hague. Well we all have our point of view – but keep the children out of it. LEAVE THOSE KIDS ALONE!
Genny Bove: "still time to ask questions and intervene"
What everyone else said about the Royal Welsh, guns and children. Apart from that, the thing that made the biggest impression on me yesterday was a conversation I had with a woman whose father had been a conscientious objector in World War II and who she said was "so brave" to stand up for what he believed in when so many people condemned him for doing so. She described how he had steadfastly stuck to his belief that Christians must be pacifists, had gone before a court in London where it was acknowledged that his objection was conscientiously held. He was granted CO status and went to work on the land for the duration of the war. Like many such stands though, his actions resulted in problems for the whole family who were ostracised and suffered material deprivation. The woman described the distress of seeing her mother queue with her ration book along with everyone else in a local shop only to be turned away when she reached the front of the queue, not because supplies had run out but because her husband was a CO.
What we did yesterday in Wrexham isn't just a local issue - the questions we have raised about Armed Forces Day, military recruitment activities and children apply across Britain. Most places are 'celebrating' Armed Forces Day next Saturday, 28 June. There's still time to ask questions and intervene.
More photos and a short video clip on flickr.