armed forces and police

   The armed forces encompasses the army, navy and air force. They protect the interests of the UK overseas. Since the Second World War, the forces have adapted to a new role. The standing armies of the Rhine and the Far East were withdrawn when Germany reunified and Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control. The forces are now envisaged as a rapid reaction force able to ‘police’ trouble spots on behalf of Britain, NATO or the United Nations. Recently, task forces were sent to the Falklands in 1982, the Persian Gulf in 1991 and Bosnia in 1993. The organization of the forces has also changed. Regiments have been merged in order to reduce personnel, and technological advances in military hardware have necessitated well-educated personnel. The forces have always recruited mainly from the working classes, and originally had a steady supply of conscripted men from National Service, which ended in 1957. The officer core, once provided by the public schools, now comes from bursary-funded graduates. However, despite high unemployment the armed forces now struggle to recruit high-calibre personnel. Some observers point to falling educational standards as the reason for this, while others cite the natural reluctance of youths to risk themselves in Northern Ireland; before the Irish ‘troubles’, few service people have died in combat since 1945, except in specific engagements such as those in Malaysia, Korea and the Falklands.
   Since the foundation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829, the police have been likened to an army for the maintenance of order inside rather than outside Britain’s shores. The police and armed forces are similar in many ways. Both recruit rank and file from the working classes and higher echelons (sergeants, commanders) from the educated middle classes, and both have struggled to recruit women and ethnic minorities because of ill-treatment and lack of promotion opportunities. Both also wield the coercive power of the State, and are the only legitimate users of violence. This aspect of police work and ‘colonial’ or ‘paramilitary’ policing is repeatedly criticized. For instance, the tactics used during large-scale demonstrations, the use of riot police ‘snatch squads’, CS gas and pepper spray have been attacked. However, despite persistent criticism from sections of the community, both agencies enjoy popular support, evidenced by the popularity of the detective genre and series such as Soldier Soldier on television. Despite this, most young people applauded the sentiment of anti-militarist films such as The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now.
   Further reading
    Dandeker, C. (1990) Surveillance, Power and Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press.
    Jefferson, T. (1990) The Case Against Paramilitary Policing, Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
   BARRY GODFREY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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