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The official flower of the military child is the Dandelion. Why? The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. The roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.
Experts say that military children are well-rounded, culturally aware, tolerant, and extremely resilient. Military children have learned from an early age that home is where their hearts are, that a good friend can be found in every corner of the world and in every color, and that education doesn’t just come from school. They live history. They learn that to survive means to adapt, that the door closes one chapter of their life opens up to a new and exciting adventure full of new friends and new experiences.
The study of warfighting, militaries, and soldiering has been practised for millennia. Humans have lamented the rules and ethics of war, its motivations, equipment, tactics, and outcomes since long before academia took notice, and arguably before the advent of writing itself. However, what rarely gets a mention in conventional war studies courses is the impact of soldiering on children and families. The literature on war has historically largely addressed children as a suffix to women, framing them as either innocently (and silently) protected or as collateral damage in wartime. The voices of children within military communities can subsequently get lost, even while appearing central to both jus ad bellum and jus in bello.
Conversely, a brilliant body of research spanning psychology, psychiatry, education, and increasingly social and political sciences puts these voices at the centre of their understanding of the military. This has opened up new avenues of inquiry into the sociological and psychological impacts of war and militarisation. Celebrating Month of the Military Child this April, a number of DRN members have been hard at work in this field, bringing us thought-provoking blogs and asking important questions about how military children learn, support one another, and understand their situation. We really want to spotlight this work and, particularly as a community of researchers that includes ex-service personnel, join the conversation around military families. You will find a couple of calls for participants below which involve exciting research into the experiences of military children relating to both education and mental health. I encourage anyone eligible to volunteer their time and share these calls with your networks.
I began this month's newsletter with the Dandelion Poem, and particularly this rendition by British charity Little Troopers, to reflect upon and celebrate the resilience of military children. Whatever your situation or background, resilience is a virtue that many of us have had to muster this year more than ever. I would say that we have much to learn from these dandelions, and I am excited to see how they touch academia in the years to come.
Virtual meetings, webinars, quizzes, 'drinks parties' and conferences have been sown so deeply into our social fabric that it feels disorientating to imagine sitting down in an auditorium of people to listen to a hotly-anticipated keynote. A stranger offers a handshake? Unthinkable. Attending a buffet? Someone pass me the sanitiser. Yet, our growing familiarity with e-socialising has meant that we have, in many respects, seen more of each in the past year than ever before. The social restrictions that we have grown accustomed to have drawn us paradoxically both further apart and closer together as we navigated the last anxious twelve months.
The question that comes now is, what's next? What will socialising, networking, and researching look like in a post-pandemic world? At the time of writing this, the debate on vaccine passports grows hotter, bristling with concerns for privacy and inequality, as planning for the first large-scale events resembles a war game. Can we learn from the innovations born from emergency and reassemble our 'normal' in a way that is kinder to both people and planet?
To honour the UK's (hopefully) imminent ease of COVID-19 restrictions, throughout March we have been discussing conferences. Whether you were a conference regular pre-pandemic, or you began your postgraduate journey during 2020 and thus have yet to experience your first conference, the chances are things are going to be very different as we transition to a hybrid of physical and virtual events. Despite the numerous technical glitches, virtual conferences have been an overwhelming success, presenting new opportunities to share knowledge widely, inclusively, and with respect for our planet. The worldwide travel restrictions and our newfound digital competencies have demonstrated the exciting potential for collaborations and discussions which pay attention to our carbon footprint while freeing up time for those with busy schedules or caring responsibilities.
As a community, we have benefitted greatly from the pivot to the virtual space, giving us the chance to connect across countries and time zones with like-minded researchers. This has been reflected in our many Twitter Hours, webinars, and virtual meet-ups. As a testament to this, our committee has grown to encompass multiple cities and even continents! I am excited and grateful to say that this month this newsletter has surpassed 300 subscribers, while our Twitter following has flown past 2,000, with engagement in six of the seven continents (we are yet to reach Antarctica!). Nonetheless, we are also aware that the beauties of in-person socialising have been sorely missed by many of us. We have fond memories of our re-launch back in December 2019 - little did we know that this would be our first and last in-person event for over a year! We are looking forward to meeting you all in person as soon - and as safely - as possible.
Following the now-infamous events of January 6th in the US Capitol, the violent aftereffects of Myanmar's February 1st coup, and the world's ongoing 'war' against the coronavirus, the early stages of 2021 have provided much food for thought in terms of the applicability, efficacy, and ethics of counterinsurgency.
There have been many parallels drawn between counterinsurgency doctrine and the current security crises; renowned counterinsurgency scholar David Kilcullen has called the events of both January 6th and the summer of 2020 in the United States an "incipient insurgency", the impacts of which were "war-gamed" in preparation for a contested election; The UN Security Council is being urged to act to "end the military's stranglehold over democracy in Myanmar", raising questions over the 'Responsibility to Protect' and what international intervention can, and should, be deemed appropriate; What's more, General Stanley McCrystal has likened his model of counterinsurgency to the body's response to infectious diseases, telling Forbes that a network-based strategy was the best way to fight "the coronavirus war", saying "If this is war, we have to rally the resources of everyone who has something, knows something, or can do something to beat the virus".
Yet, the issue of counterinsurgency has long been a contentious one. As Sorina writes in our blog this month - more of which you can read below - in practice, counterinsurgency campaigns have often resulted in a 'fragility storm' of widening inequalities and ineffective military strategies which serve to intensify violent extremism. The classic 'hearts and minds' approach has received criticism thanks to a narrow conception of political legitimacy rooted in colonial practices. Furthermore, as many of you noted in our recent Twitter Hour, an ambiguous distinction between counterinsurgency and counterterror leaves academics, politicians, and practitioners contesting over how to proceed. How, then, can we use the 'lessons learnt' from past and present counterinsurgency campaigns to respond to recent events in ways which are holistic, context-sensitive, and lead to lasting security for all? This is a question we will be following closely in the coming months as political, security, and health crises continue to coalesce across the world.
As you may have guessed, then, counterinsurgency is an important theme for the DRN, and we were delighted to co-host another brilliant Counterinsurgency Forum last month. Bringing together academics and practitioners to discuss our research and share ideas is at the very heart of what the DRN is about. On top of this, it has been great to see so many of you engaged with our theme throughout February on Twitter and Zoom. We look forward to carrying these discussions both virtually and, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, face to face as the DRN continues to grow.
This week saw the sad news of the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore, the British Army Veteran who raised almost £33 million pounds for the NHS in the run-up to his 100th birthday. Captain Tom became a symbol of hope and patriotism for much of the UK as we navigated the early stages of the pandemic, and remained integral to the British narrative throughout 2020 thanks to his message of hope and positivity: "tomorrow will be a good day."
As well as receiving a Knighthood, he topped the charts and broke worlds records with his recording of 'You'll Never Walk Alone', was given the Pride of Britain award, earned at least two honorary doctorates from Cranfield and Bradford, and became the captain of the FA's Lionhearts squad, among many other accolades.
The nation has mourned his death with the same spirit in which they celebrated his life. A moment of silence in Parliament was observed and claps erupted from doorsteps across the country to show their appreciation for the 'dignity and determination' with which he supported the nation through the last year. After the news of his death on the 2nd February, a petition to give him a state funeral has already received over 200,000 signatures. Prime Minister Boris Johnson seemingly signalled his support for a statue of the centenarian, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock said of the news:
"We should find a way to make sure we mark the memory of Captain Tom and thank him for the contribution he made to the NHS. [...] I will ensure that we mark his contribution properly and appropriately at the right moment. [...] I think everybody would welcome that... he touched the hearts of the nation and we should remember that."
With memory and memorialisation January's theme of the month, Captain Tom's passing reminds us that remembrance wears many faces. Questions of public versus private memory have been debated in reference to almost every war in history, and the COVID-19 struggle is no different. The political work that memorialisation can do was a major theme of our Twitter discussions this month, and the death of Captain Tom is an important contextualization of this. This was captured in the controversial (now deleted) comments by Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown that the memorial 'National Clap' for was a display of the 'cult of White British Nationalism'.
There is no doubt that the memory of Captain Tom will live on in British history; the joy he brought to so many over the past year is a wonderful reflection of his generous and cheerful spirit. Nonetheless, at this time, we must ensure that our collective memory and resulting memorialisation is driven by the wishes of his family and loved ones. We at the DRN send our condolences to them. Rest In Peace Captain Tom.
Happy New Year! It's been quite a year, hasn't it?!
As I prepared for this New Year's newsletter I thought back to its 2020 counterpart and I saw a year that began and ended with equal parts struggle, survival, and solidarity. Although none of us could have imagined the enormity of COVID-19 back in January 2020, the bushfires fires which ripped through Australia were our first taste of crisis. Dramatically highlighting the effects of climate change and setting the scene for what became one of the warmest years on record, fires also raged in Serbia and California, while Indonesia, Kenya, and Uganda suffered destructive flooding.
In other news, US drone strikes, the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, and the corresponding deterioration of international nuclear relations saw us hurtling towards WWIII. In this environment, you'd be forgiven for taking David Cameron's warnings at face value as the Brexit transition period formally began. On the other side of the pond, the Black Lives Matter movement pierced through the coronavirus news, invigorating international outrage and civil unrest in response to the killing of Black people by police. The summer also saw the start of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as the devastating explosion in Beirut which tore through the city and toppled the Lebanese government. The US election turned communities against one another, and information warfare impacted states and civilians alike.
And, in all this, who can forget COVID-19? While writing our newsletters in March, April, and May on this 'invisible war' and the 'new normal', not for a moment did I think that I would still be in lockdown 10 months later. Although there is undoubtedly more to say about the disasters of 2020 than this brief editorial can hold, as security and defence researchers we must focus on both war and its aftermath. Our jobs took on new meanings as we attempted to navigate the rhetoric of war which has threaded together much of this year. While the meanings of pain, war, and violence have mutated in unexpected ways, security has also meant many things this year...
It meant a safe space to live
It meant a protected environment
It meant racial justice
It meant stable employment
It meant an end to hate and bigotry
It meant a vaccine
At the same time, our heroes were redefined as...
While 2020 has taken so much from us - our loved ones, our jobs, our time, our ambitions, our freedom, our sanity, our security - I am eternally impressed by the strength and solidarity shown by so many. As governments across the world roll out their vaccines, the security community should train their eyes on these heroes to understand what peace could mean in 2021. The fireworks which lit up London this New Years shone the words 'hope' and 'together'. Despite this year of crises, these words clearly still hold enormous power.
Remembrance Day 2020 was a little different to previous years. With crowds prohibited and Royals masked, the scaled-back nature of this year's events seemed to reflect what has been an isolated year for many of us. Nonetheless, this did not make the day any less moving, with the pain of this year bringing a renewed sense of shared grief, but also solidarity and hope, to the country. To comply with national lockdown measures, this year's service was live streamed from the Cenotaph, with people all over the country taking part in remote and socially distanced Remembrance activities. We demonstrated our innate resourcefulness and will to connect across the country, for example the giant poppy mosaic filled with notes of thanks to military veterans. We also connected across lines of difference, with black poppies appearing more frequently as the nation attempts to confront systemic racism.
In a big way, then, technology has been a saving grace in this drive to (re)connect. Providing new ways to lived shared lives while geographically separate or shielding, we owe a lot to the power of virtual communication this year. The incredible impact of Sir Captain Tom Moore would not have been possible without the strength of social media, nor would families have been able to unite across counties, countries, and continents to celebrate Easter, Eid, and yesterday's Thanskgiving. With this month's theme of veterans and families health and wellbeing, recognising the significance of these connections is absolutely vital. It's also important to note the promising tech developments aimed at improving veteran's health and wellbeing, from the US's 'My Military OneSource' to 'HeadFIT' here in the UK.
What's more, November is 'arts in health' month, and we've been considering the role the arts and other creative activities can play in wellbeing for veterans. Below, we introduce the Defence Gardens Scheme Community Interest Company, the work of our lovely committee member Sally Coulthard. This initiative offers nature based therapy to service leavers and their families, drawing on the therapeutic benefits of gardening and the community building opportunities these gardens offer. Help for Heroes' 'Creative Force' Programme is built from the same principles, helping ex-service members to process and recover from the mental and physical ramifications of military service using art and other creative outlets.
If you are looking for a fright this Halloween, look no further than a MODREC application form. As I write this, I am two days away from submitting my ethics application, an extensive 16 page document for which I have laboriously trailed through file upon file of GDPR rules, simulated the risks for every possible scenario, and had more than a few sleepless nights. The prospect of receiving an unfavourable decision fills me with more dread than any potential monsters under the bed. COVID-19 has undoubtedly made this process even more of a minefield for PGR students, who are tasked with proving methodological rigour while entangled within a situation of which none of us have any control. How long is it until Christmas?
But, to give it its due, this process has done its job in making me reflect on the upmost importance of giving this tricky topic some attention. Particularly in the field of defence and security, questions of ethics are paramount to ensuring that our research and actions are safe and secure, proportionate and just. When we work in this space, we have a responsibility not just to our research participants, but also to the academic and policy communities we are contributing to, to conduct research which is ethically conscious.
The 'real' world is giving us ample reason to hold these ethical principles in high regard. While some of us want to meet Captain America (hello Chris Evans), others, it seems, are in the process of making him. Current developments in gene editing and artificial intelligence are indicative of a refreshed revolution of military affairs, one which provides both exciting opportunities for the future of military activity, and a whole new set of measures against which ethics panels must judge. These are areas that require as much scrutiny as they do innovation, and I know that many of you in our community are engaged in brilliant work tackling these important questions.
Every time September rolls around, I can't help but wonder where the summer went. Is it that time of year already? (Surely not); Have I achieved what I set out to over summer? (Don't be silly); Am I prepared to begin learning again? (What's learning?) - Getting ready for the new term is always a shock to the system.
Nonetheless, this year's 'back to school' season is a bigger shock than ever - and is unsurprisingly looking very different. We're either going into our eighth month (year?) of working from home or frantically trying to book study space online. And, if we do go to campus, will we see our family ever again? Fieldwork plans seem like a distant memory, while sleepless nights over class sizes and timetables are accompanied by the looming worry of being blamed for a public health crisis. I think it's fair to say that this is not exactly how any of us imagined navigating a research degree would be.
Unfortunately, the new school year also means that a few of our team are moving on and around. I am very sad to say that this will be the last newsletter I write to you all. I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has read and engaged with this platform over the past year, it has been an absolute pleasure to write about the wonderful things our community is doing, watch our readership grow, and hear your feedback on Twitter. Particularly in these strange and isolating times, knowing that we can connect as a collective has brought me great comfort - I hope that I have played a little part in bringing this community to you, too. Luckily, endings inevitably lead to new beginnings, and the DRN is looking for someone to take over where I have left off! We are also on the lookout for a Twitter Manager to manage our social media presence. Interested? Read below for more information on how to get involved.
"...women are very much combatants in this battle. This is a unique moment to examine frontline nurses as the foot-soldiers of this campaign and explore what it means for our understanding of women as combatants."
Who earns a place on the 'frontline' is a question that has been debated almost as consistently, and as contentiously, as the futility of war itself. Although it was 2018 before women were able to serve in all combat roles in the British Armed Forces, history has shown us that perseverance and a rebellious streak enticed women to the battlefield centuries earlier. The implicit masculinity of the soldier is questioned as far back as Boudica, through to Agnes Hotot, Christian 'Kit' Cavanagh, Hannah Snell and many many more. Infamous WW2 French Resistance fighter and "most decorated heroine of WWII" Nancy Wake once told an interviewer "I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas."
That being said, as the character of war changes, the 'frontlines' are shifting too - seemingly ridding us of rigid ideas of soldiering. Gone are the days when women must conceal their femininity to serve their country; the British Army now directly appeals (albeit not without criticism) to a new type of recruit, one which embraces all genders, sexualities, ethnicities and faiths. Yet, will Britain's "modern military" be able to overcome deep-seated ideals of masculinity underpinning war and soldiering?
This July, we are exploring the ways war interacts with technology, we've got some interesting new online courses and funding opportunities for you, we're meeting the editors of our favourite journals, and we're celebrating an extraordinary female engineer.
Ever since COVID-19 turned the world upside down, there has been a rush to find innovative ways to cope with this strange new environment. Alongside the vaccine race, numerous ingenious, life-saving, and sometimes outright strange products have been hitting the market in an effort to outsmart 2020's biggest adversary. Many have likened this coronavirus-induced innovation to the technological advancements during the Second World War - everything from rocket technology to superglue came about as a result of wartime imaginations.This precedent has given Peter Beech, writing for the World Economic Forum, an optimistic "glimmer of light" as the world continues to battle both the virus and its related afflictions of fear and uncertainty.
Whether lockdown has you completing your bookshelf or struggling to make it past the first the page, we've got your reading covered this June...
We are asking you what you're reading, we're supporting Black Lives Matter in the British Army, we're looking forward to our second webinar, and we're evaluating the merits of science fiction to a military education.
"You are travelling essentially. Reading is a state of freedom - the freedom of the mind, the freedom of the imagination, and there is no better cure to feeling nailed to the spot than reading"
As we end our third month of lock down, is this the 'new normal'?
“We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but I know we'll meet again some sunny day. Keep smiling through just like you always do, 'till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away...”
The words of Vera Lynn took on a new, and largely unexpected, significance in our VE Day celebrations this month, as we skipped on street parties in favour of more distant affairs. Many of us reminisced on days gone by (quite literally for this innovative street in Chester!), where hugs weren't taboo, beer gardens weren't off-limits, and we could party likes its 1945. Yet, it has been wonderful to see how many people across the country are adapting to the current climate, finding ways to connect and celebrate amidst what now seems to be our 'new normal'. VE Day is particularly important for us at the DRN, and we are extremely proud of all the service and ex-service members among us. We are committed to researching and supporting Armed Forces personnel both on and off the battlefield.
As the world around us changes, let the DRN newsletter be the one constant in your life...
As Germany tentatively reopened some of its shops and services earlier this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the German public to remain disciplined regarding social distancing rules to avoid jeopardising the country's so far impressive resilience to COVID-19. Although she admitted that we are "still at the beginnig", Merkel reiterated that with nationwide cooperation it would be possible to emerge safely and sustainably on the other side of this crisis.
"The crisis we face from the coronavirus is on a scale of a major war...”
These were the words of Senator Bernie Sanders addressing a recent news conference, fiercely rebuking the leadership of President Trump amidst the global pandemic that is COVID-19. While Sanders predicts casualties on par with WWII, his rival Mr Biden furnishes his ‘Public Health Advisory Committee’ with former homeland security and counterterrorism advisors. At the same time, there are armed police locking down the streets of Europe, while in the UK we are gearing up for the potential launch of our own military response, code-named Operation Broadshare.
From Service to "Civvy Street" and Beyond, Making the Transition
Last month we discussed the launch of Veterans Work’s new report Moving On. The aim of this report was to examine the factors motivating veterans when making the transition from the military to the civilian job market. In so doing, Veteran’s Work hopes to positively impact transition support and recruitment, making businesses aware of both the skills and perspectives ex-service personnel can bring to their corporations. The report's central themes are questions of location, salary expectations, and experiences of finding a job, and its outcomes highlight that ‘quality of life’ concerns often find veterans away from big cities or less likely to commute. Veterans Work thus urges employers to offer flexible or remote working to tap into the ex-military talent pool.
“If it isn’t a national security issue, what is?"
Last month, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnball criticised current leader Scott Morrison's response to the deadly bushfires which have devastated the country, call for the immediate restructuring of emergency management to deal with this unprecedented "national security issue". Turnball was not alone in calling for such change. The New York Times labelled the crisis an 'Atomic Bomb,' while MP for the New South Wales Electorate of Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, called for national mobilisation in the form of a civil defence corps.
This December, we wanted to say thank you to everyone who attended our relaunch event, as well as introduce our new website, invite you to our January Twitter hour and let you know about some of the amazing defence-based projects our members are involved with.