Big Debate: Armed Forces Day—homage to heroes, or cut military spending?

Royal Artillery members from Essex and East London fire 25-pounder field-gun on Armed Forces' Day, 2

Royal Artillery members from Essex and East London fire 25-pounder field-gun on Armed Forces' Day, 2011, at Littlehampton - Credit: Mike Brooke

Armed Forces Day is Saturday, when the nation pays homage to the men and women of the services who maintain Britain’s military role in the world. It has growing support, with 1,180,000 people having signed up to the Armed Forces Day page on Facebook. But there is also growing discontent about the millions spent on Defence while social services are cut.

Dean Pursell, supports Armed Forces Day... Anne-Marie O'Reilly wants military spending cut

Dean Pursell, supports Armed Forces Day... Anne-Marie O'Reilly wants military spending cut - Credit: Archant

DEAN PURSELL is a retired former SAS serviceman living in Old Ford in east London who was awarded the BEM in the Queen’s Honours List. At 82, he still volunteers as caseworker for SSAFA [formerly Soldiers’, Seamen’s & Airmen’s Families Association]. He believes we should support Armed Forces Day:

SAS, Royal Marine Commandos—have I got your attention? They are the crème de la crème of fighting men. Man for man, Great Britain has the best Armed Forces in the world. The performance of the Royal Navy and the RAF is legendary.

A large part of my 37 years in the Army was spent with the SAS. But in 1954, when I went home on leave from Malaya, my father, a First World War veteran, asked why I was wasting my time delivering airmail letters instead of serving with a real regiment. He was uninformed.

The reported exploits of Special Forces nowadays are legendary, like the Iranian Embassy Siege, and have changed such concepts.

The public, who pay to maintain our Armed Forces, needs to know how our brave servicemen and woman function. It is a great comfort to them carrying out difficult and dangerous roles that families and friends are aware of the sacrifices they make. Pupils in my grammar school in the late 1940s knew more about the War of the Roses, the Peninsular War against Napoleon and Boer Wars than they did of the two world wars.

My father served on the Somme and won The Military Medal for bravery. But his experiences made him bitter.

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He was unable to form a normal relationship with either of his two sons. Only now can I appreciate how he felt.

Modern media enables the public to understand some of the dangers and sacrifices our forces face.

We can view horrendous scenes of wars, and confrontations from the comfort of our armchair. But spare a thought for the father/husband/boyfriend or the mother/wife/girlfriend who is missing his/her loved ones as they serve us and their country and protect us from harm.

They would give their right arm, and sometimes do, to be with loved ones.

But they willingly volunteered to fulfil their roles with dedication and professionalism.

On Armed Forces Day, we should all salute and honour our Armed Forces.


ANNE-MARIE O’REILLY is an activist for the Campaign Against Arms Trade who believes the hard cash we spend on our global military role should go, instead, on vital social services:

East Londoners are well aware of the huge cost of the military—the East End was bombed extensively in the Second World War.

This September, their lives will be again disrupted by one of the world’s largest arms fairs at the ExCel centre at Custom House.

Britain has the fourth highest military spending in the world. But this also has a devastating effect on our daily lives.

Politicians choose to protect military budgets, while subjecting public services to cuts, perpetuating their conflict and aggression that has seen tens-of-thousands of civilians killed in Afghanistan and hundreds-of-thousands of lives lost in Iraq.

In our communities they choose to make hunger a daily reality, to increase homelessness and to stop sick and disabled people’s access to social security. Instead of meeting human needs, the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review to reduce public spending by £1 billion in 2013-14, due out today (Wednesday), looks set to redirect money to the military.

Families with more than two children and under-25s who rely on social security may have to live on even less, so that funds for nuclear weaponry, fighter jets and warships are not jeopardised.

High military spending is an investment in a militaristic vision of security that only undermines human safety and security. We need an alternative vision, one that starts with what we really need and tackles root causes of conflict, rather than fuelling them.

Spending on education and public transport creates double the number of jobs as investments in military. The jobs funded by taxpayers at £700m a year to subsidise the arms export industry are fewer than the jobs we have lost in the NHS. Investing in renewable energy instead of military research would create sustainable jobs and tackle climate change, a genuine threat to human security.

It’s time to stop spending on the military and start spending to meet human needs.