Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Soldier, the FA Cup and the Creeping Militarism of British Popular Culture

The FA Cup Trophy at Wembley StadiumImage via Wikipedia

When Corporal Mark Ward of the Mercian Regiment presents the FA Cup to the winning team at today's Wembley Stadium final, his presence will be a further subtle step towards an American-style inter-mingling of militarism and sport in Britain.

The FA has been developing this agenda for several years, with uniformed servicemen (and women) appearing in ceremonial roles at a growing number of FA-sponsored fixtures, including recent England full-international matches.

FA Chairman David Bernstein notes that, “The FA has been a long time supporter of the Armed Forces.... We should never forget the bravery and sacrifice our forces make and I hope this gesture by The FA will give the 90,000 crowd at Wembley on Saturday the chance to show their respect and appreciation." 

The FA Cup itself was taken to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan earlier this year by England Under-21 Head Coach and man-of-the-people Stuart Pearce. 

One problem with this supportive engagement on the part of the FA is that it is deeply political. In the United States, "support for the troops" has very easily morphed into an uncritical acceptance of the government's foreign policy.  Similarly, the cultural transition towards celebrating the work of soldiers at mass public sporting events carries with it the unspoken assumption that the activities of these same soldiers, and their political masters, should be unchallenged. At least in public.

In an era when the government is closing children's centres across the country, reducing educational budgets, allowing universities to charge £9,000 per year to future undergraduates, and inviting private firms to "compete" within the NHS, the financial cost of the government's misguided Afghanistan policy remains an elephant in the living room, as far as public spending is concerned. This is quite apart from its moral or strategic merit.

This week, the head of the British Army, Sir Peter Wall, acknowledged to the Commons Defence Committee that there "clearly was" a failure of intelligence in the run-up to Britain's involvement in Afghanistan's Helmand province in 2006.

"I absolutely accept that what we found when we had our forces on the ground was starkly different from what we had anticipated and been hoping for. We had always anticipated Taliban potential intent. What we probably under-estimated was their capacity,"  he said.

With both of the prominent male Royals currently serving in the military - William in the RAF and Harry a tank commander in the British Army - the fusing of power, wealth, militarism and popular culture remains a powerful combination in modern Britain. Today's FA Cup presentation will add to that heady mix, and in the opinion of this fan, is a regrettable development.

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1 comment:

between-the-lines said...

Mass sport spectaculars go together with nationalism and militarism like flies go with dung.