From the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back:
Shock! Horror! The commandant of an airbase near Peterborough has ordered those under his command not to visit the town in uniform as this has attracted verbal abuse from a section of the population. The media went crazy. How dare they insult our brave boys (and girls) who are prepared to sacrifice their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to defend us from terrorism! What a disgrace! Something must be done about it!
But do the armed forces really exist to protect us? To protect the great majority of those who happened to have been born or to live in this part of the world and who have to obtain a living by selling their ability to work for a wage or a salary?
The answer is, no, they don’t. The armed forces are part of the State machine, and the State machine exists to protect and further the interests of the rich few who own and control the means of production, the minority class of capitalists who have interests to defend at home and abroad, interests which are not those of the majority of the population.
The armed forces are the core of the State, the threat and reality of coercion that defines the State as the only social institution that can legitimately employ physical violence; they are “the armed bodies of men” that constitute a ruling class’s last resort.
These days capitalism is maintained not so much by brute force as by the work of what has been called “the ideological apparatus of the State”, i.e. the schools and media, which teach and encourage capitalist values. But even if capitalism continues because most people have been brought up to consider it to be the only way the modern world can be run, the State is still there to uphold and enforce capitalist property rights, first through the courts, then by the police and as a last resort by the armed forces.
It is true that the last time the armed forces were used to coerce (and shoot down) workers was before the First World War, under the last Liberal government when Asquith was Prime Minister. But they have always been there in the background in case the police should be unable to cope. It was just that during the Miner’s Strike of 1984-5 the police were able to manage without the support of the armed forces.
That, abroad, the armed forces don’t serve our interests as wage and salary workers is obvious as we don’t have any interests abroad or any quarrel with people like ourselves in other parts of the world.
Everybody knows that the attack on Iraq five years ago this month was mainly about oil, about overthrowing a regime that was hostile to Western capitalism’s influence in the Middle East and which controlled the world’s second biggest reserves of this key energy resource. A secondary consideration was Iraq’s strategic position as a place from which to dominate the oil reserves of the Caspian Sea as well as those of the Middle East. It’s the same in Afghanistan, which has always had strategic importance as the gateway from Central Asia to the sea.
“Our” boys are in these places not to defend our interests - we’ve not got any quarrel with the people in Iraq or Afghanistan - but to defend the economic interests of US and European capitalism, even if this is disguised as a war against terrorism.
Because the armed forces are so important to them at home and abroad the ruling class want and need to cultivate what used to be called “militarism”: the glorification of the armed forces and their exploits, cheers for them as they march past robot-like to martial music, pressures to join them - and respect for their uniforms. It’s all part of the conditioning to get us to support capitalism and the military actions the capitalist State takes in defence of capitalist interests.
This is why the media made such a fuss over what’s been happening in Peterborough: it represented a set-back for militarism. And why we Socialists didn’t mind at all. We don’t want people to respect the armed forces. We want them to be seen for what they are: hired killers.
It is true that in the end they are “our boys” but only in the sense that most of them (even amongst the officers, despite the occasional royal lout) are recruited from our class of wage and salary workers. Men and women in the same position as the rest of us, with no other source of income and so obliged to find an employer. Only they have decided to accept the “queen’s shilling” and become hirelings of the coercive arm of the capitalist State. Many may just want to learn a trade or to do something more exciting, but what they are being trained to do is to be a part of a killing machine. And for this they don’t deserve our respect, even if, as fellow workers, we understand that they need a job to live.