The Madness of Militarism : What’s that got to do with Youth Work and Young People?

Ta to convergence
Ta to convergence


The refrain that we should keep politics out of youth work is familiar, if jaded. Both politicians and senior managers are often to be heard talking sentimentally about ‘young people being the future’. Yet the moment we raise the inextricable relationship between the prospects for young people and the spectres of unemployment, poverty, environmental catastrophe- and to acknowledge two recent posts, the lack of social housing in the UK and the violent carnage in Gaza – these apologists for the status quo scuttle back into a compartmentalised existence. Theirs is a self-centred world, within which young people are to blame for their precarious predicament, lacking skills, failing to match up to requirements. The solution is that age-old cliche. Young people must pull their socks up and stand on their own two feet, be ‘resilient’. And this weary exhortation is from folk, who claim to be new and innovative in their thinking!  Evidently the dilemmas faced by young people [and indeed most of us in one way or another] have nothing to do with what the Pope calls ‘a savage capitalism’. Evidently young people’s hopes float free from a society in which schools and hospitals are closed in the name of austerity or under a hail of mind-numbingly expensive bombs.

In an article,

Killing Machines and the Madness of Militarism: From Gaza to Afghanistan

Henry Giroux focuses on the impact of a militarist ideology on  American culture and society.

Informed by a kind of primitive tribalism, militarism enshrines a deadly type of masculinity that mythologizes violence and mimics the very terrorism it claims to be fighting. Militarism and war have not only changed the nature of the political order but the nature and character of American life.

We live in a time in which political illiteracy and moral tranquilization work in tandem to produce the authoritarian subject, willing to participate in their own oppression and the oppression of others. Thus, the silence over filling our prisons with poor people of color, treating desperate immigrant children as if they were vermin, and allowing elected officials to replace reason with forms of militant religious fundamentalism. What kind of moral arrangements does a society give up when there is no outrage over the fact that the United States supplies billions of dollars in armaments to other states and thus is complicit in the killing of young children and others through acts of state terrorism?

Militarism is a new form of illiteracy and psychosis, symptomatic of the failure of civic courage because it demands obedience and punishes people who are critical, capable of questioning authority, and are willing to address important social issues.

Of course you do not need to share Henry Giroux’s analysis. To what extent is it applicable to the UK and so on? But it seems to me he poses unavoidable questions for anyone, who claims to be committed to social justice, to peace, to democracy, to a future. For my part I don’t think this is a time for youth workers to bury their heads in the suffocating sands of  imposed conformity and prescribed outcomes, to do as they are told. It is a time to look outwards, to embrace collective thinking and activity, to gain strength from solidarity. It is time to be – what we claim to be – critically reflective practitioners.



  1. It is a sad day, Tony on so many levels – most because to speak up/out at all means you risk attack even by your own ‘colleagues’. We have become afraid to talk aloud at all for fear of the repercussions – and this is particularly true of putting anything in writing on the Internet with all the surveillance efforts. The days are complex and complicated. Words are meaningless and limited. But we must attempt to let our voices be heard nonetheless, even and especially if it means we are going to launch a debate! Bring it! Why are we so afraid to debate anything of intellectual substance these days? Ah well…thanks for opening the gates.

  2. As further evidence of the closing down of critical debate inside so-called Higher Education in the UK, see the new post on the abolition of the University of London Union and the closure of its newspaper, London Student. Let’s keep the creaking gate ajar!

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