Countering The Militarization of Youth


Main forms of militarization of youth in different countries - participants sharing from their context:

The United Kingdom:

  • Armed Forces Day - local towns organize events for the military inviting the public to them

  • Schools are encouraged to invite soldiers (including even inviting helicopters that land in the school courtyards to excite the children).

  • Cadet programs in schools from the age of 12 - this is all funded by the armed forces, and includes weapons trainings.

  • Military stalls in fairs and festivals

  • Long term military contract that bind people who sign them at a young age

  • Use of the centennial of WWI to bring up nostalgia and heroisation of war, as well as nostalgia to the national unity of war time.


  • The history of joining the colonial militaries for lack of other options

  • Building on the narrative of local warrior culture of tribes

  • Qur'an schools being the only available education system. These schools include preparation for recruitment into Islamic militias.

  • Limited options: Leaving Somalia VS Piracy or joining a militia

  • Clanism

United States:

  • Video games

  • Military cooperation with Hollywood in working on movies


  • Recruitment stalls outside schools, in subways, malls…


  • Compulsory military/alternative service for men

  • Using the concept of Russia as an enemy to assert the need for the military

  • Reality TV shows about conscripts

  • Camps for youth to practice with military equipment


  • The military is identified politically with the right for historical reasons

  • Recruiting immigrants through promising citizenship

  • Marketing the military as doing good through UN peacemakers troops. Spanish development and UN blue helmets work in the same areas.


  • Post WWII there was a pacifist discourse - 80% were against wars.

  • The military works with unions and churches to promote conscription

  • optimizing facilities for different minority groups (accommodating religious practices, opening kindergartens on bases…)

  • County treaties to invite soldiers into schools

  • Using the concept that the military, through UN peacemakers, secures peace (the German military is involved in over 40 countries worldwide).

  • Unemployment offices promote recruitment


  • A recent UN rapporteur to Eritrea highlighted the militarization in education


  • Same as Somalia in the Somali areas

  • High levels of unemployment cause people to bribe their way into the military.

  • Professional athletes are soldiers or policemen, as this is their only way to get a salary for sports

  • Activists become involved in their communities around political leaders, then turn into armed security groups for those politicians, and between elections become armed gangs terrorising the community to preserve their power.


  • Veteran cards are required for certain rights (like graduation from Universities)

  • Military raids on bus stations and such to force recruitment on draft avoiders


  • Military values and imagery from kindergarten

  • Militaristic surroundings including tanks and fighter jets used as decoration in cities.

  • Using the military and soldiers in advertisement.

  • An education system that has recruitment as one of its goals and actively works to promote it.

  • Peer pressure - seeing military service as a maturing experience, a way to build national identity, de-legitimizing those who don’t serve

  • Economic pressure for certain socio-economic groups: the military is a guaranteed career.

  • Disinformation about the consequences of not serving in the military

  • Using masculinity building through the military as a reason for both men and women to enlist.

Challenging the militarization of youth - Tactics we use in our work

 WRI initiatives happening now:

  • A new resource website:

  • A week of action this year (after a day of action last year): Week of Action for Military Free Education

  • A new program focussing on countering the militarization of youth that WRI is opening.

Tactics and ideas:

  • Disruption of military talks in schools

  • Lobbying to deny the military access to schools, or at least to require “balance”

  • Decorating recruitment offices and military monuments with anti-militaristic messages

  • Working with teachers and parents to prevent military presence in schools

  • Publicizing alternative employment options

  • Street theatre - joining military parades satirically

  • go to school” campaigns to encourage education

  • Working with religious leaders to make statements against violence

  • Adult education programs to allow more employment options

  • Setting up youth groups - non-violent radical alternative spaces for youth

  • International accompaniment for communities resisting military/militia conscription

  • Know your rights pamphlets - information about exemptions from military service

  • Leaflets about alternative service and the possibility of total objection

  • Music - organizing concerts with anti-military messages

  • Non-violent computer games

  • Using social media - encouraging youth to share their reasons/perspectives against military service

  • Political poetry

  • Working with families - parents to parents groups

  • Alternative children's books as tools for parents to raise children with anti-militaristic values

  • Veterans sharing their real experience to counter the propaganda

  • Using strong visual images. Creating symbols.

  • Online (or physical) adbusting


Possible Entry points and directions:

  • Providing alternatives!

  • Providing basic vocational skills

  • Withdrawing women’s support for fighting (mothers, partners…)

  • Connecting military spendings to the lack of social spendings

  • Using accessible mediums (social media, music, movies, fun…)

  • Creating materials in accessible non-threatening language

  • maintaining the idea that people can change at any stage

  • Creating informal spaces and meetings to allow the youth to lead

  • Creating advocacy material by asking youth what interests them first

  • Being a known address for the youth to come to if needed

  • Using community and school radios

  • having no-limits creative thinking sessions with youth

  • Using Flashmobs


  • Responsibility for the safety of youth (especially COs)

  • Communication barrier between generations

  • Outreach - managing to answer the needs of youth that contact us, but not reaching new youth

  • People would rather join existing and successful initiatives then start something or join something small

  • Youth need to work/study rather than have the time to be engaged

  • The risk of being “Un-cool” in youth work

  • Not to be condescending when working with youth


Young Soldiers - Why they choose to fight

Sowing Seeds


Programmes & Projects

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