Interview with David Gee, co-founder of Forces Watch
by Ian Sinclair
14 May 2015
Speaking to me on his houseboat moored on the canal near Angel, David Gee explains Britain has historically been a very militaristic society. However, he believes there has been a recent upsurge in militarism – the topic of his new book Spectacle, Reality, Resistance: Confronting a Culture of Militarism.
So what lies behind Armed Forces Day, Help for Heroes, the Troops to Teachers programme and the media scrum around the military funeral repatriations in Wootton Bassett?
The government presents these pro-military schemes as an attempt to encourage understanding and appreciation for the armed forces. Gee, the 42-year old co-founder of the Islington-based activist organisation Forces Watch, is unconvinced.
Citing opinion polls, he argues the general public “are becoming more sceptical of Britain’s wars in faraway places” such as Iraq and Afghanistan. “This has worried the armed forces, it’s worried the government and it’s worried the establishment”.
For example, in 2009 Chief of Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup declared that the “declining will” among the public to support the war in Afghanistan was more of a threat to British troops’ morale than the Taliban’s roadside bombs.
For Gee the initiatives above are a response to this change in public opinion, “intended to embed the armed forces and what they call military values into civilian culture so we are more supportive of the next war”. Indeed Stirrup himself also stated “Support for our service men and women is indivisible from support for this mission.”
“There has been in the media a lot of jingoistic support for what the armed forces are doing in Afghanistan and Iraq”, Gee says. And while he stresses the varied coverage of the BBC, he notes there has never been an example of a serving British soldier criticising a war on BBC television news. Strict rules ban soldiers saying anything that embarrasses the armed forces or the government. However, Gee also believes the BBC is a strong conservative force when it comes to the armed forces. “The BBC would not want to show that on the eve of a war soldiers have doubts about what they are being asked to do”, he says. “They are much more comfortable with saying ‘Soldiers are ready to go’ and ‘They’ve got a job to do’ and the rest of it”.
Turning to the future, Gee is keen to see significant change in British foreign policy. “Given the ghastly mess that the US and the UK have made of the Middle East, really creating the grounds for ISIS’s rise, the first thing I would like to see – and I don’t think I’m alone – is for the UK and the US to stop invading other countries, to stop thinking it is their job alone to solve problems abroad”.
And what about the armed forces? “In most states across Europe, across most of the world, armed forces are there to defend the territory of the realm in the event of the attack”, he says. Therefore, Gee hopes British armed forces will be used “much more explicitly for defensive purposes” in the future. As we end the interview he explains the government spends around £38 billion a year on its military “while saying we don’t have enough money to staff the NHS properly.”
“It is irrational”, he concludes.
Spectacle, reality, resistance: Confronting a culture of militarism is published by Forces Watch, priced £7. www.forceswatch.net.