As you may be aware, Cambridge University students voted this week to ban the presence of firearms from stalls during their freshers’ fair. Ms Stella Swain proposed the motion (see below) in accordance with students’ desire to demilitarize their campus.
‘The presence of firearms and military personnel at freshers’ fair is alarming and off-putting for some students, and has the potential to detrimentally affect students’ mental welfare.’
The amended motion, which limited the ban to firearms, was passed by an overwhelming majority of 75%.
The students said that the presence of military personnel and weapons could be upsetting to students. I could see that being a distinct possibility. We live in a more and more diverse world, and students on campuses may have come from war torn countries, or they may have served in the military before going back to school and been subject to hazing or military sexual assult. Students might have been exposed to domestic violence or gun violence, sad but true. All are valid reasons why it might be upsetting for some people to see military personnel walking around their campus in uniform with (or without) weapons.
I can think of a few more reasons why military recruiters should not be allowed to attend freshers’ fairs. First, the fairs are supposed to be a student-focused event, the intent of which is to help students get to know campus organizations and events so they can get involved. Unfortunately it seems that corporations and other private and public entities, like the military, have gotten a foothold into the fairs for their own purposes. Students should have their own space to organize without external influences.
Second, military recruiters and the military recruitment industrial complex are known to misrepresent the facts about enlistment, misleading would-be recruits with vague promises and outright lies – to include promises that they will not be deployed to a combat zone. They cannot promise that! I have seen military recruitment stalls on Armed Forces days in the UK. They come with fancy high-powered weapons, climbing walls, and displays that make military service look like a game. I once heard a recruiter telling a kid that if they could use a video game controller, then they could operate certain pieces of military equipment. Shame on them. War is not a game!
Third, recruiters are not required to disclose the possible detrimental outcomes related to military service (e.g., increased risk of suicidality, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, sexual abuse, death, exposure to toxic chemicals, and the list goes on and on). Nowadays, most advertisements are required to list the risks associated with their products – this is not true for military advertisements and it should be.
Regardless of my stance on peace, demilitarization, and all things related, I think it is wonderful that students at Cambridge University engaged in dialogue and debate about a topic that they are passionate about, and they had a vote, and they made a decision. Again, that decision was to ban the presence of firearms at freshers’ fairs. They did not say soldiers suck and they hate them. They did not call for the abolition of a standing army as being contrary to peace. They did not demand the nationalization of the weapons manufacturing industry (which has been making billions in government contracts off of gun sales related to the “war on terror”) as a means of taking the profit out of waging war. They simply said that they did not want guns on their campus, during freshers’ fairs, siting that it may upset students. I don’t blame them. I was in the U.S. Army for ten years and I get stressed seeing people in uniform with weapons in inappropriate places.
With all that being said, unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the attacks on the students’ for making this decision were immediate. Former commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan Colonel Richard Kemp is said to have called the motion ‘pathetic, to say the very least,’ and suggested that it is part of a larger scheme to ‘undermine British society.’ Others have suggested that it demonstrates a lack of respect for the sacrifices soldiers have made on their behalf, without which they wouldn’t have the freedom to go to school let alone vote on such a motion.
I have also heard veterans say that by banning recruiters from freshers’ fair, they are depriving students from access to information about military history, current military events, and other important bits of knowledge that will help them to better understand the world around them. And that it will make it difficult for students to ask questions of recruiters, and explore the possibility of enlisting in the armed forces. Not true on both counts. There are classes and societies for learning; and, if a student wants to learn more about the military, they can contact a military recruitment office.
I really wonder how fragile the ego is of a person who, of all things in the world, interprets students saying they want their freshers’ fair to be about their school, minus the firearms, as an attack or affront directed at all soldiers living and dead.
I attended basic training at Fort Jackson, SC, USA, back in 1994. Of all the things that I learned during those eight weeks, one thing my drill sergeant said as we were about to graduate has always stuck in my mind. To paraphrase, he said: “When you get back home on Christmas leave, remember to put your uniform away.” Back then you weren’t supposed to wear your uniform off base. He went on to explain that he never wanted to see us in uniform walking down the street, acting like we owned the place or that people around us owed us anything. That has always stuck out in my mind. People do not owe us anything for their freedom, that is what makes it freedom.