The Guardian • Issue #2070

Nuclear subs challenge trains 10-year-old children for war

Child playing with war toys.


It’s time for education ministers across the country to show leadership and protect our children from vested interests and pro-war propaganda.

On 19th June, the Defence Department launched its Nuclear-Powered Submarine Propulsion Challenge, for years 7 - 12 students across the nation. The program seeks to engage the enthusiasm of young people for the complex and hugely controversial nuclear submarine program, in the hope that some of the students will want to contribute to this form of war-fighting when they leave school.

The nuclear submarine proposal has implications that go far beyond the understanding of the students targeted for this program (which include those as young as 11 years). They include the nuclear weapons proliferation potential, the consequences of a war – possibly nuclear war – with China, for which the submarines are planned, the problem of high-level, long-lived nuclear waste for which there is no solution anywhere, and the matter of what else will suffer financially as we attempt the gargantuan task of paying for this program. In the absence of any awareness or understanding of this context, the schools program is little more than propaganda.

The program fits with the growing prevalence of private weapons company-sponsored STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) programs in schools. Their purpose is to create positive brand name associations, such as happy memories, from which can flow varying degrees of attachment to the corporate brand. Company logos are displayed on all materials, and there is often direct contact between students, teachers, and company representatives. An underfunded public education system is perfect for the companies’ purposes, because overstretched teachers will welcome material that might make their job a little easier.

There is ample evidence that children are very susceptible to the creation of positive associations with an advertised product. Even into adolescence, children don’t necessarily have the skills to critically assess the intentions behind persuasive marketing tactics, or understand what a brand or product really represents.

The militarisation of STEM education is not confined to our schools (and universities, which comprise a huge network in themselves of weapons company partnerships). The National Youth Science Forum has as its primary sponsor Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest weapons maker. The Questacon National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra receives major funding for its Engineering is Elementary program from the Defence Department, with ADF engineers being actively involved in delivering the program.

The industry’s need is for a workforce socialised to accept warfare as inevitable and the industry itself as always a force for good. The Minors and Missiles report of the Medical Association for Prevention of War outlines the problem, its extent in Australia and how it can be addressed. The new organisation Teachers for Peace works to this end also.

In relation to the nuclear submarine challenge for schools, on 1st July the Adelaide Advertiser published an article “Kids, 10, training for to build a workforce for AUKUS, SA’s $368bn nuclear submarine project”, about the Beacon program in some schools, run in conjunction with weapons giant BAE Systems. Among other activities, it allows students to virtually load and fire weaponry, one student stating “It’s a lot more fun, it’s like playing a video game but it’s a lot more educational.” Such presentation of warfare and its associated hardware to children as a game – which extends also to our war commemoration – is an abuse of their right to aspire to live in a peaceful society.

An additional concern with the Nuclear-Powered Submarine Propulsion Challenge is that it anti-democratically circumvents strong community opposition to a technology – nuclear power – which has been consistently rejected by the Australian people. Barely a person in the country, including in our parliament, was even asked about the nuclear submarines, and yet the opposition to the proposal is strong, with much highly critical commentary. To ignore all that and go straight to the next generation with exciting prizes is reprehensible.

On 31st August, the Federal Executive of the Australian Education Union (AEU) passed a strong resolution reaffirming the AEU’s deep commitment to peace and its opposition to militarism. In relation to the nuclear submarine challenge, the resolution stated that the AEU “condemns this program, and the use of Australian schools by the Defence Department, in drawing secondary students into the government’s development of new industries focused on armament manufacture and industries associated with warfare.”

It continued: “A politicised pro-AUKUS curriculum has no place in our schools, alongside other private industries who attempt to use schools as a vehicle for promotion of their own products and profits hidden behind spurious educational benefits for students.”

The AEU is to be applauded. It’s time for education ministers across the country to show the same leadership in protecting our children from vested interests and pro-war propaganda.

First published in Pearls&Irritations

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