I have never been comfortable with the “Help for Heroes” charity and the constant use of heroes for military personal. The more I read on peace building, the more I object to the use of the term heroes for military personal. The use of this terminology glorifies militarism and war. It also silences any voices that may voice alternative approaches, such as peace building, to militarism.
However, if we are not in favour of calling our military personal heroes then what do we call them. I call them victims of our militaristic framing story and, like all victims, they need our support and help. It should not be through charities. It should, along with helping the civilians impacted by war, be accounted for as part of the cost of going to war. If this was done then I suspect governments would be more reluctant to use militarism as a way of resolving international conflicts. They may also be more reluctant to support an arms industry as a way to increase the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
There are numerous problems with trying to change this deep seated cultural perspective. There is the impact on those who have served as soldiers and who have returned from war zones that now feel that they have sacrificed through putting themselves in harms way but are forgotten or their work is not honoured. I recognise this problem and if we are to transition away from a militaristic culture then we need to acknowledge that it is our cultural norms that have promoted this militaristic self-sacrifice. It is we who must accept the guilt of having sent them to cause destruction and not they who should be treated as outcastes. We speak against the action and not the person.
The problem with militarism is that we send out people with weaponry to cause destruction in another nation, and then when the military personal return, we are upset at the destruction caused. We are upset at what appears to be indiscriminate bombing of civilians with weaponry that is unable to pick out individuals. But we are to blame because indirectly we supported the militarist stance that sent them there. Even as a pacifist and peace builder through silence, I have implicitly allowed military action to occur even though I feel we should be pursuing peace building alternatives.
We, the general public, are at fault here and we need to acknowledge that we have sent people out to maim and be maimed. Yes, they may have signed up for service but our implicit acceptance of the militaristic solution is what keeps the current system in place.
What I am arguing for is a change of language around military service. We need the programs to rehabilitate those who have served and this isn’t simply to make them feel they have done us a service. Even more we need a change in language about how to deal with international relationships and terrorism. This may mean acknowledging the harm that we have done in colonising other nations and our attitude of superiority. So often I hear politicians using words that suggest the third world nations should be grateful for our help when it is we who have caused many of the issues that have arisen in their relationship with us.
We need to be humble and willing to listen. To stop demanding what we want and be more willing to meet the need. The capitalist system favours those with the wealth. It never starts or operates with the equal playing field that free markets require. The imbalance exists and until the imbalance is addressed and continually addressed, we will have those who rise in protest.
Peace building starts with listening and understanding the problem. It does not ignore conflict but seeks to deal with it by looking at the underlying causes. It means being prepared to nonviolently stand up to the oppressor and to expose the injustice. Militarism does not do this. Militarism relies on might and coercion. Peace building seeks to put things right and to bring justice.
As I reflect, I recognise that the problem is not simply militarism but that coercion is deeply ingrained into the culture of western society. Our businesses apply coercion to customers. Our education system indoctrinates students. We foster an us versus them culture where we must win and others must lose. To maintain this culture, you have to apply coercion whether through military power or monetary reward. People are required to conform.
If we are serious about seeking to build a peaceful society then we need to focus on meeting needs and not demanding payment. An economy for the common good has to be an equitable economy. That is an economy that ensures all people’s needs are meet regardless of how we value their contribution to society. It also means to enable people to contribute, we need to focus more on their potential and enabling them to develop in ways that allow them to be contented and to feel that they belong. The tensions that we try to repress with militarism are caused by the imbalance of our economic system. If we fail to address the subtle coercion of our economic practices then we will fail to bring a coherent peace.
It is time for a serious rethink so that peace building takes priority and the bulk of our investment. Our use of the term heroes needs to decline.