The Combined Cadet Force is coming back into fashion, says Ronan Thomas, who believes its wider take-up would help reduce gun and knife crime in Britain’s cities.
The Home Office recorded 10,267 firearms offences in Britain during 2005–06; ninety-seven gun-related deaths occurred in the same twelve months; more than four hundred British families have experienced the murder of a family member by gunshot since 1993 (information from the BBC and Mothers Against Guns, 2006). A poll taken in 2006 further claimed that one in ten Britons had been affected by gun crime in the past five years. Together with the social and family fragmentation that has become such a feature of modern British life, despair may be a justifiable reaction to figures such as these. The question asked by many, and which the government’s ‘respect agenda’ has so far failed to answer, is: how can Britain give its youth an example of self-respect to inspire, establish boundaries, instil self-discipline and bestow a sense of national community?
One solution may lie in a youth organization rooted in modern British history and with a striking record of success. The Combined Cadet Force (CCF), though once the sole preserve of public and grammar schools, has many positive lessons for a wider audience.
In recent months senior members of the government (including, most vocally, Gordon Brown) and opposition have said they now see the clear value of cadet forces. Generations of schoolboys (and, from the mid-1970s, schoolgirls) have learnt how to cope with discipline in the CCF. Through its adventure training they have acquired self-reliance and a sense of achievement. Perhaps most importantly for those wishing to reduce levels of violent crime, they have gained an understanding of and a healthy respect for – rather than an unhealthy fascination with – dangerous weapons.