Canadian Forces promote militarism in the classroom

Canadian tank in St. John’s school

A friend in Montreal, whose partner is a teacher, recently messaged me:

“My wife, who sat through the Grade 4 virtual Remembrance Day activity organized by the school board described what it was like: The students watched two soldiers walk around a military base giving a tour. This included tanks. … A student asked if they use the tanks. The soldiers stumbled a bit and the spiritual animator intervened and said ‘we don’t ask soldiers about whether they use weapons or shoot people’. The soldier intervened and got upset. He said something to the effect of ‘no soldier joins the army to shoot people. We join to help people. Some people shoot people, but they have mental health problems that they need help with’. Then a captain cut in, seeming upset. He said ‘soldiers are trained and given an education. And it’s an education, not brainwashing!’ …

The Canadian military has been offering events and speakers — usually Afghanistan war vets, big banners and displays, etc. But I’ve never heard of this before. Touring a military base for 10 and 11 year-olds.”

While there are likely many, I’m aware of at least one other instance where the army brought a tank to a schoolyard. In 2007 CBC reported that a Grade 4 “class at Holy Cross Elementary school [in St. John’s, Newfoundland] were given a first-hand show-and-tell session with a tank and related gear.”

None of this is new. The Canadian Forces (CF) has initiated innumerable recruitment and public relations initiatives targeting schoolchildren. Military recruiters often participate in career and education fairs at schools. In April 2019 the CF set up a virtual reality shooting range at a school in Kingston to recruit students from across the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario.

The 38 Canadian Brigade Group’s Signal Regiment has visited hundreds of elementary school children each December over the past four decades as part of Operation RADIO SANTA. The soldiers set up a military command post where the children dictate their Christmas lists to the North Pole. Along with speaking directly to Santa, the students tour the mobile command post, view different military equipment and ask soldiers questions.

An army co-op program gives students four high school credits and pays them to join the reserves where they train to shoot machine guns and throw grenades. The RCN operated a similar high school co-op program. Students in the Victoria area can serve in the reserves after school, receive up to four high school credits and are paid to do basic training in the summer.

Veterans Affairs produces “learning resources” designed for different school grades. In 2012 an education officer with Veterans Affairs explained: “At the beginning of the school year, we send a promotional kit to all schools, containing an example of each of the learning resources available for that year.  … There is also a Veterans’ Week Speakers Program and DND co-ordinates visits by Canadian Forces members to schools.”

Militarist organizations also run school initiatives. The Canadian War Museum lends schools free learning kits, which contain artefacts related to World War I and other materials to support in-class lessons. In the late 1980s, according to Professor Peter Langille, the DND backed Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies developed a “high school curriculum program to counterbalance the peace movement.”

Historica Canada’s Canadian Forces Memory Project has reached hundreds of thousands of students. The initiative brings veterans and CF members to schools and its digital archive offers educators more than 3,000 firsthand stories and 1,500 original artefacts chronicling Canadian military history. In Warrior Nation, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift describe the Memory Project message to students: “In essence, the story goes, warriors, made us what we are today. Warriors led us in the past and should govern in the future; and, if you are lucky, you too might grow up to be a warrior.” Since the early 2000s DND, Canadian Heritage and Veterans Affairs have ploughed millions of dollars into the Memory Project.

Operating in schools for more than a century, the cadets are a powerful tool for drawing teens into militarism. To familiarize young people with the CF the military spends more than $300 million a year on the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, Royal Canadian Army Cadets and Royal Canadian Air Cadets. The largest and oldest government-funded youth program, over 50,000 kids were part of the free afterschool initiative before the pandemic. Participants may receive school credits and the government offers up hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in post-secondary scholarships to cadets.

The program instils reverence for warfare. Cadets often attend Remembrance Day celebrations and other military commemorations. “Growing up as a Canadian cadet,” explains Kelly Jarman in “The Cost of Canada’s Militarist Culture: Perspectives From a Former Cadet”, “I was taught that the military is the most important aspect of society and that it deserves unquestioned respect. Trips to museums, Remembrance Day parades and even school assignments were all designed to instill in us the idea that soldiers are noble and that wars are fought for democracy and freedom. The very idea of citizenship is linked to military culture, something that became evident when we toured the HMCS Fredericton naval war ship during a so-called ‘Citizenship Trip.’”

Should the military be spending tens of millions of tax dollars a year propagandizing in schools? Should schools promote military “culture” and the militarism that goes along with it? How many parents are even aware this sort of thing happens in school?

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