This article has been written both as a response to the ideas set out in an article posted in the comment section of The Badger last week (“Attack on Freedom of Assembly”, comment – 6/10/2008), and is an attempt to put to death the misleading information being bandied about surrounding who the University Royal Navy Unit (URNU) actually are.

Firstly, however, we wish to respond to some of the accusations made in last week’s Badger article on the clown raid at the Freshers Fair. It has been claimed that the clowns “attacked a group of students” (“Attack on Freedom of Assembly“ – 06/10/2008) during their raid on the stall. However, there is no evidence that, apart from egos, anybody was physically assaulted at all; as can be seen from the picture and testimonies of witnesses. The clowns clearly avoided physical confrontation with any member of the URNU. Moreover, the accusation that it was a violent action is completely unfounded. Not a single person was injured and it is clearly impossible to be violent towards an inanimate object e.g. a table or a flyer.

The clowns have also expressed dismay at the use of the term “anarchist students’” (“Navy stall a vandalised at Freshers’ Fair” – 6/10/08) to identify and pigeonhole those involved. Many of those involved do not identify as being anarchists and others have taken objection to the use of the term in an inherently negative sense conjuring images of chaos and disorder, rather than the abolition of hierarchy and self-fulfilment towards which anarchists actually strive.

So, on to the URNU. It is an institution established by the Royal Navy to be an outpost of training and recruitment for students on 14 campuses across the UK. Let’s look at the hard facts: a student who joins the URNU becomes a navy reservist at the level of a Midshipman. The student is paid (with taxpayers’ money) by the Royal Navy at the standard rate for a Midshipman whilst attending any URNU meeting, be it a weekend at sea on their boat (property of the Ministry of Defence – why is Judith so surprised that “people associate them with the army and the general military”?), the HMS Ranger or a drunken social at the Trafalgar Night Dinner. The student also has the opportunity to receive a ‘bounty’ at the end of each successfully completed year of training (source: URNU flyer). Note that no other society on campus gets state funding to ‘train’ its members.

‘We believe that the notions of freedom of speech/assembly are not neutral. They play a vital role in maintaining the political status quo in society’

The writer claims that the URNU are a-political and its web site “mentions nothing of recruitment, war or military intentions”. This is simply not true. The self-professed role of the URNU is to “better inform them [its members] of the need and role of the Royal Navy”. This suggests that actually the role of the URNU is to ensure the preservation of the Royal Navy in years to come. Furthermore, a brief scan of Sussex URNU’s website reveals pictures of members posing during war games exercises on land and sea. Not to mention the fact that the enrolment of people from URNU into the Royal Navy is 80 %, according to URNU members on the stall at the Freshers Fair.

There are various political reasons as to why we chose to carry out our action the way we did, and why we chose to reject those principles, freedom of speech/assembly, in the case of the URNU.
Basically, although we believe that anyone should be allowed to voice their personal opinion, and rally around a particular political programme, we believe that the notions of freedom of speech/assembly are not neutral. They play a vital role in maintaining the political status quo in society, and serve to police those who rebel against it – as is the case in this debate. We believe that the liberal ‘freedoms’ that Judith’s argument hinges on do not necessarily have a basis in reality, but stem from an idealistic view of society as essentially harmonious, with an equal share of power for all, and a view of politics as merely a matter of ideas and debate.

The links between the URNU and the UK military, as well as the links between the UK military and the imperialist wars in the Middle East, are clear. Therefore, calling the URNU “essentially apolitical” is like calling the Pope an atheist. And with a Freshers Fair attended by the URNU, does the notion of “a wide arena for freedom of assembly and freedom of speech” still mean anything? May we ask those who hold the idea of freedom of speech so dear, where are the voices of the Iraqi people for instance? Did they vote in favour of an invasion? Did they vote in favour of recruiting more people into the UK military? This crucial point is unfortunately not part of Judith’s analysis. And by the way, how does the notion of freedom of speech sit with an institution that is funded by the state, regardless of what party is in power?! Look, these people don’t NEED freedom of speech, since they are an integral part of the single most authoritative body in this country – the government!
Our globalised world is a whole in which all parts influence each other – our lives are entangled with the lives of those in the Middle East. Remember that it is our government that has invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. So when will we take full note of the fact that we are really not that different from the Iraqi people and that our lived realities are inextricably linked? Because when we realise this common ground, it becomes impossible to separate “us” from “them”, and we have to abandon the comfortable distance of external observers watching war reports on Newsnight, and we are forced to admit that we too are living in a fiction of peace. It is for this reason that we decided to act in solidarity with the Iraqi people resisting foreign occupation, by preventing the URNU from signing up more people, and by raising the level of political consciousness around the issue of the war on our campus.

What the writer is doing is upholding the liberal fantasy. The fantasy that the world at large is harmonious,
peaceful, democratic in nature and respectful of human beings, the fantasy that relies on the separation
between our state of affairs (the absence of armed conflict) and that which is happening in the Middle East. The fantasy that draws a line between the good guys (those who respect an abstract idea like freedom of speech/assembly), and the bad guys, the ones that the writer labels as “extremist students”, those who are physically preventing an oppressive institution from recruiting more people into their workforce.
The URNU has no legitimate right to be here on campus, if we are serious about doing away with oppression in all its forms. We think it is time for some open and honest debate about who the URNU really are rather than hiding between half-truths and lies, and we call for a serious questioning of ourselves and our society, of how we are a part of the misery of our brothers and sisters all over the world. Bring on the AGM!

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5 Comments

  • If students are going to start being attacked and treatened on their own campus i would like you to remove this image because I am in it and have not given you permission to publish it.

    It is disgusting and narrow minded to think that daubing a freshers fair stall in paint will bring an end to the wars in the Middle East. The military are there to protect the DEMOCRATICALLY eleected government, if the military were to have turned round and said no to the war in Iraq that would have been undemocratic and fitting of the definition of a coup. So blaming the military for the war in Iraq is not the way to end the conflict.

    This is, however, irrelevant. All URNU members are HONOURARY Midshipman in the RNR and have no call up liability or committment to join the RN on completion of their degree. The figure of 80% of the URNU joining the RN is simply incorrect. On average the intake of officers into the RN from the URNU only 20% are from the URNU. Sussex contibutes least out of all URNU’s with an average of 3 or 4 out of 51 per year joining the RN.

    Should the student who answered “I’ll fight for Queen and country” be made to feel guilty for his statement? After all your article calls for the freedom of speech on all sides, even if he doesn’t “NEED” it. In my opinion the URNU does not brainwash, manipulate or encourage its members to join the RN. And I can think of worse ways to spend my holidays and weekend than bobbing around in the channel making friends, gaining personal confidence, management, teamwork, engineering, seamanship, naviagtion and organizational skills. No other society on campus gets government funding as no other society offers these opportunities. The URNU improves the student experience of those involved and makes their time at university more enjoyable and worthwhile as they leave with a greater skill set than their peers. Far from being victimised by a hard core few the URNU should be seen as a positive for the students involved and the university. I believe that the URNU would be more valued if those unsure or suspicious about its purpose and intentions would attend the open evenings and actually talk to their fellow students involved in the scheme.

    I conclude with one final statement which I ask all further commentators to remember: The URNU recruits for the URNU, NOT the RN.

    PS Sussex URNU does not celebrate Trafalgar Night – and students pay to attend functions, which work with and benefit the local community and the university itself.

  • I totally agree with John Mason; I’ve lived all my life in the Naval towns of Portsmouth and Portland where being in the Navy is a good, well respected career. Every generation of my family have been in the Navy and Merchant Navy, and my younger brother is in the Naval Cadets, and they don’t feel oppressed in any way. The Navy is one of the most understanding forces, and gives employees the options of changing careers and retraining within it. Also, the Navy gave them an entry into their future careers such as Search and Rescue Pilot! I believe that this hatred towards the URNU is ridiculous and pathetic and probably stems from some students not understanding what the URNU does, or what it even stands for; and I’m sure there are lots of “politically active students” who just want something to make a fuss about. The Navy do other jobs apart from fighting in the Middle East. They stop people and drug trafficking around the world and keep the peace in areas which need help maintaining democracy such as the Middle East.

    I am not saying I support the war or invasion of Iraq, because I can honestly say I don’t know enough information to make a decision on the topic. I wouldn’t say I’m uneducated on the topic, both pro and anti war parties make very convincing arguments and I believe we will never know all the information. However, now it’s been done and democracy has begun to form, they need help maintaining it.

    I believe the URNU has every right to be on campus. Think about it though, we’re all intelligent, educated university students… I’m sure people can make up their own minds as to whether they want to be in the Navy or not. The Navy can’t brainwash you! If you’re going to attack the Navy and their recruitment scheme, are you going to attack the children at Sea Cadets?

    I have written in anonymously as I’m actually worried about the repercussions I might face for having my own, unoppressed opinion. Get the irony?

  • “Look, this people dont need freedom of speech”

    What an appauling statement, since when does freedom of speech require a qualification? You claim that because of a connection to the governement that the URNU doesn’t need freedom of speech. On that same measure, are civil servants not in need freedom of speech because of their connection to the “authoritive governement”?

    Secondly, you go to lenghts to mention that there was no assault on URNU members, I can’t speak to this- I wasn’t there, but last year during a barrage of one of our induction nights members were bit and kicked. And while the stall was covered in paint (and yes, a stall is just an object) you cant deny that this is an action of intimidation. But the URNU doesn’t need freedom of speech, so whats a little intimidation right?

    I also have to back to Johnnys comments of recruitment figures, 80% joinign rate is pure fiction! I dont know how we can make it clearer that the aim of the URNU is not military recruitment, as evident by the fact tat few actually join and persue careers elsewhere (with great skills gained from the URNU).

    Finally, I wish to comment on the dicussion of middle eastern policy. Not only is it irrelivant, there seems to be an assumption that everybody connected to the military is pro-war, pro-lets invade Iraq. There is a range of opinions just like in the rest of british society. But the point really should be that the military is not in control of middle eastern policy- for this see political parties.

    Simply, anti-war individuals/groups on campus are angry over middle eastern policy- and are using the URNU to vent there frustation and anger at. Its not only wrong because the military has no say in these policies, but the URNU is just a group of students like many others on campus.

    In the end, attacking the URNU in such a manner is simply bullying your fellow students, not a flight against political policy.

  • Christ, this is ridiculous. URNU members, do whatever you like, because out in the real world, once you graduate, no-one gives a flying shit what ‘anarchist’ stands for, and throwing paint over anyone is not considered acceptable behaviour among adults. Opinions of all sorts are fine. Behaving like a twat is not. Leave the clowns to their games. The same debate has been going on at Sussex for years and always will, so just enjoy yourselves and leave them to it, safe in the knowledge that within ten years of graduation your adversaries will be directing their energy towards moaning about house prices and secretly thinking of voting Tory.

  • agreed. it’s just a shame that students at sussex are being made to feel uncomfortable and threatened by these people who are testing out their foetal ‘radical’ beliefs on others. since i left sussex i haven’t been bothered by a single anarchist though… happy days.