In July of last year the Catholic Church in East Germany protested against the proposed introduction of compulsory lessons in military science in schools for 14 to 15 year old children.
In a memorandum to Herr Hans Siegerwasser, the East German Under Secretary of State for Church Affairs, the Archbishop of Berlin, Cardinal Bengsch, argued that the State would be curtailing the rights of parents.
The proposed "socialist military education" would consist of a fixed number of lessons and a three-day camp at which theoretical and practical tuition on civil defence would be given to both boys and girls. It would not include weapon training, but boys would be able (on a voluntary basis) to spend an additional fortnight in a camp and learn how to use small-calibre arms.
The prophetic protest of the Church in East Germany is an inspiring move which relfects a commitment to the perspective on education which emerged from the 1971 Synod of Bishops: "Education means preparing
people for a way of life which is genuinely and utterly human.
"It is meant to awaken a critical sense towards society, towards the way men live, and the values they adopt. Education should prepare us to abandon all these values if they fail to favour justice for all men." , Many Christians in the West would argue that compulsory "socialist military education" in East Gerniany is a reflection of a growth in militarism in Communist countries and certainly has nothing to do with "preparing people for a way of life which is genuinely and utterly human." They might praise the East German bishops and talk about the Church working for peace and freedom. They would, of course, be right.
Possibly, however, Catholics in the United Kingdom are more adept at frowning upon the growth of militarism in Cornmunist States than at critically observing any equivalent festering in the West. Would this help to explain the reason why the Armed Forces have for years been unquestioningly allowed into our Catholic schools in order to attract young people into their ranks?
Are we prepared to support the East German Church and at the same time -while our bishops are urging us to work for peace — allow the Armed Forces to display their low-calibre weapons to children in our schools?
This year the Armed Forces have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to convince boys that masculinity, personality and career opportunities are enriched by "joining up".
Currently it is common practice in many of our schools to inform parents when their children are to receive "sex education" lessons. Parents may withdraw their children from these lessons if they wish. This consultation is laudable since it upholds that prerogative which the Archbishop of Berlin was so keen to safeguard parental rights.
However, parents are largely informed of any impending visit by the Army, Navy or Air Force, Furthermore, children are allowed to handle and admire
their weapons. One is reminded here of the address of Pope Paul VI to the UN General Assembly in 1965: "if you want to be brothers, drop your arms. No one can love with offensive weapons in his hands."
What is particularly disturbing about the presence of military recruitment teams in our schools is that 15 and 16 year olds are impressionable human beings who could quite easily be pressured into opting for a military career without realising the full implications of their decision.
For example, youngsters living in the inner city area of Liverpool (where unemployment is well over twice the national average), who have little chance of employment, may seek escape from their bleak future by taking an apprenticeship with the Army.
This may seem like a desirable situation, but in effect is amounts to the Army capitalising on a young person's frustration with a society which will, probably discreetly, usher him onto the weekly de-humanising queue for paltry social security payments.
Usually it has nothing to do with a sincere desire to commit oneself to an efficient fighting machine with conventional and nuclear military capacity!
It is easy to see how the maintenace of armies depends on the unwitting or unwilling participation of many. People, used as fodder, are pressured into working for the military machine; they may be unemployed school leavers who wish to escape indignity, boredom and the "scroungers" label, or factory workers who have no control over their employers' arms manufacturing policy and no alternative job opportunities.
If Catholic Christians are to talk credibly about the need for disarmanent and an end to the arms trade, then the questions of military recruitment in Catholic schools will have to be thoroughly debated and resolved.
Secretary, Liverpool Justice and Peace Commission Flat 2, 20 Linnet Lane, Liverpool, LI7 3BQ,