Peace Churches in the Orbit of Youth Demilitarization Activism
Gary Ghirardi / NNOMY – In my years working as a communications consultant to counter-recruitment organizations, now approaching twenty years for the summer of 2021, I have experienced personally and observed the organizing and activism of groups formed by historical peace churches make prolonged and concerted efforts to intervene against the militarization of our youth by departments of defense.
The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth itself is a creation, in part, as a project of the American Friends Service Committee’s National Youth & Militarism Program¹, a Quaker organization that helped organize NNOMY as a network at a conference in Philadelphia in 2003 along with ten other national and regional peace organizations.
In the intervening years, that network grew at its peak in 2011 to over 140 groups nationally and regionally. In recent (post Obama) years the focus of as many as 65% of these groups has shifted to other issues while at the same time the programs of the military in our public schools have expanded.
One of the historic peace churches most active in direct counter-recruiting activism is the Church of the Brethren and their organization, On Earth Peace² which organized the Stop Recruiting Kids campaign with its expansive social media campaign on multiple platforms. On Earth Peace also sits on the NNOMY steering committee as an observing member.
Other historic peace church contributors that have made efforts to intervene against the militarization of youth have been Quaker member groups such as War Resisters’ International in London and Truth in Recruitment in California. These efforts have been some of the strongest representatives of the push-back on programs of the Department of Defense in the United States and the Ministry of Defence in Britain designed to recruit youth into military service.
When Too Much is Enough
The reality of the scale and financial support for school based programs of defense departments in countries that have “voluntary” based military forces is overwhelming. Billions go into recruitment efforts and cross over into areas of what should be understood and protected as the “civilian commons” including secondary, primary, and now pre-kinder based public school systems thanks to a provision of the No Child Left Behind legislation.³ Much of this outreach to youth is not only designed to foment potential military recruitment but also to condition favorable views of military and national service that is highly militaristic without examining the deeper realities of how those values impact our lives both inside and outside military service.
In the past, when there existed national conscription in both the United States and Great Britain, there was a more visible specter of resistance to participation in wars due to conscientious objection, often practiced by congregants of Peace Churches who refused to fight in combat.
These principled stances taken by these objectors often led to imprisonment and maltreatment or mandatory confinement in alternative work camps such as those evidenced during the Second World War in the United States with the government sponsored Civilian Conservation Corps that offered objectors the option of involuntary work instead of prison.
Though these camps celebrated a vital community culture and were largely self organizing and administrating, they were still a form of punishment for not supporting a military ethos and were, to a degree, an extension of that ethos.
As we enter a post-pandemic epic in the world, one where the largest military budgets in world history impact our societies, there is a discernible unease reflected even in the mainstream press about the range and purpose of international expenditures on military and intelligence structures, now even increasing with the unveiling of a now incipient Space Force readied to extend military weaponry as a defensive (and offensive capacity) around the planet.
Post COVID-19, when so many have been left without jobs due to the social impacts of the pandemic more attention is being paid to questioning national and international priorities when public expenditures are needed to resolve human needs when so many are in crisis.
A Call Out to Religious Based Counter-recruitment and Demilitarization Efforts
The time ahead for this planet, its sustainability and survivability has likely never been greater. With multiple world governments now embarking on a program of nuclear weapon modernization, an existential environmental crisis being touted by the world scientific community, and a global population destabilized by both environmental crisis and the resultant militarization, there is a need for a new generation of principled activism.
This response is not only the domain of those motivated to act based on religious covenants of course but given the history and propensity of those in the historic peace churches to take to action against the dangers of war, certainly serve in an essential role in the process of intervening against the cultural militarization that threatens these tenuous times ahead.
- National Youth & Militarism Program, https://nnomy.org/en/who-are-we/nnomy-formation2.html
- On Earth Peace, https://nnomy.org/en/content_page/item/840-on-earth-peace.html
- Military Recruiting Tools & Methods, https://nnomy.org/en/what-is-militarization/school-militarization.html