Friday, December 31, 2010

A petition against the renewal of ROTC at Harvard

After many years, the Harvard administration recently decided to allow ROTC back on campus. It had been stopped as a result of the Harvard strike of 1969 and faculty discussions. Later, during the military/political homophobic policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the ban continued. Given a heroic campaign by gay and lesbian activists in the military, other honorable soldiers and citizens, and as he promised, Barack Obama, the Senate has barred discrimination. This is an historic change, and one that will lead over time, given a core and growing sentiment for equal basic rights for all citizens, to the legalization of gay marriage across the country. This repeal was one of the signal achievements of the Obama administration that any democrat can admire.

Joe Biden recently sent out a Christmas letter to those who campaigned for Obama, celebrating the abolition of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell!,” and with no mention of Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan or the use of randomly murderous drones in Pakistan. Nothing for decent people, as Biden knows, to be proud of there….* Obama had run as the “anti-dumb-Iraq War candidate.” Yet he is now engaged, as I have emphasized here, here and here, in 5 occupations and aggressions, including an escalation of troops and mercenaries in Afghanistan and large scale murders of civilians with drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Neo-con think tanks emphasize the ratio of innocents to Pakistani Taliban killed as 5 to 1 – that is better than 80% of those murdered by drone. (The Pakistan government which opposes the use of drones estimates 600 civilians for 1 Taliban leader). With a war effort like that, following up on senselessly aggressing against a Middle Eastern country for oil and military bases, practicing torture itself, not punishing high-placed torturers, and sabotaging international law, the US, even under Obama, produces increasing reasons for many Arabs to tolerate Al-Qaida and the Taliban and, more frequently, to oppose the United States. The policy is remarkably counterproductive (see John Mearsheimer’s lead article "Imperial by Design" in the January-February issue of The National Interest here).

What motivates the American policy of global military domination as well as a claim to control outer space is the impact of the war complex (the military-industrial-political-media-intelligence complex as I have called it), in particular, the rise of the military, and its continual pressure to extend occupation and suck up unlimited resources, even with America in a depression (17.2% real unemployment, counting those who have given up looking for work, and those who have part-time jobs who would gladly accept full-time ones). This is what Martin Luther King spoke of presciently during Vietnam as “the destructive demonic suction pump” of militarism, at war with the poor in America. Today the suction pump is even more dramatic, and much of the middle and former working class are sinking into poverty.

America has a desperate need to strike out in the direction of green manufacturing, to become again a productive economy. Obama took some steps in this direction (the initial stimulus), but has since, under heavy attack, retreated. The current tax cuts for the poor are also a stimulus, but one with no promise for setting the economy on a road out of being merely a hollowed out, privatized war economy, combined with a financial casino.

For the military has been eaten in America by mercenary companies like Xe (Blackwater). In Obama’s surge in Afghanistan, there were 7 mercenaries for every 3 soldiers. In the continuing occupation of Iraq, there are 72,000 mercenaries and 50,000 soldiers. The idea of privatizing everything has led to the US not even having a military under the control of the government (the military will do what the government asks when the government can pay the price, for private profit. The military budget for last year, $708 billion, was 2 and 1/2 times larger than Cold War military spending. See here. The Petraeus machine is less and less a real military, more and more something which has a head – Generals who “counterfeit COIN” (counterinsurgency recycled from Vietnam) in Andrew Bacevich’s phrase, the appearance but not the reality of a serious military – combined with lots of weapons. Beneath, in the rest of the “body,” the military is becoming a private, perhaps vigilante (for pay, rather than ideology) force.

If one wants to understand why China came out of the depression and is growing so rapidly compared to the United States, it has controlled the banks (they are not allowed, as in America, to retain a tiny fragment of deposits and speculate - derivatives, collateralized debt obligations, and the like). China has no privatization of the military - what is genuinely public activity when not engaged in aggressions and occupations - and thus, no corruption, and comparatively inflated costs in this decisive respect.

The corporate press fawns on the military. When General McChrystal gave a press conference in Paris, demanding 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan, the press uniformly repeated his charges, Democratic “experts” like Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, who had recently regretted his opportunist (more “TV face time,” as he put in an article in Foreign Affairs) and foolish support for lies leading up to the Iraq aggression, demanded that Obama must give in right away to McChrystal. Taking five weeks to think about the escalation, Gelb said, was “harming our military…” Similarly, the Republicans and Bill Kristol yelped for more war even though the enterprise in Afghanistan is foundering and without purpose (Al-Qaida is now in the tribal areas of Pakistan…).

Actually, McChrystal had broken the leading Constitutional principle of civilian domination over the military. In making his views public rather than raising them privately, he had violated the chain of command. Obama should have fired McChrystal for this, not for his comparatively minor later remarks about the cabinet reported in Rolling Stone. In a press with even a smidgen of understanding of what American democracy is about, that would have been the central issue. While Gelb and Kristol thundered from the right in the corporate press, not one editorial or op-ed raised this decisive issue.

This is a central aspect of what Martin Luther King during Vietnam named American militarism. See here and here. For the generals, all aspects of American life must be increasingly subordinate to military corruption. At Harvard, members and supporters of the strike against ROTC in April, 1969, led by John Berlow and Nathan Goldschlag, circulated an eloquent letter to the Boston Globe, criticizing their editorial which announced that with the abolition of don’t ask don’t tell, Harvard must welcome back ROTC. I signed this letter, as did Michael Schwartz and John Womack, among many others.

A somewhat longer version of the letter now appears below as a petition. Anyone from Harvard in the 1960s-early 70s who supports the petition, please sign – you can email me and I will forward your name to John Berlow. The Globe is a “liberal” paper editorially, and yet criticism of the presence of the military is anathema. As John wrote to me,

“The Globe not only didn't print the letter, but didn't print a single letter from anyone opposing their editorial in support or the policy itself. Please put the petition on your blog with invitations to sign.”

ROTC is primarily a problem because of the harms of militarism and America’s many and hopeless aggressions. In addition, its “courses” are propaganda, a parody of education. Despite growing disapproval from ordinary people (63% now oppose the war in Afghanistan here), militarism expands into ever new aspects of American life. ROTC at Harvard or the Dream Act, allowing “illegals” who have lived and gone to school entirely in the United States (their parents employed/exploited by American companies) to be eligible for funding if they go to college - a good idea - but also making them citizens if they join the military**). It is important, in a many-faceted way, to oppose the increasing militarization of American life.

The Petition

Harvard’s recent decision to allow ROTC back on campus, based on the elimination of the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, is seriously misguided. As supporters of the campaign against ROTC at Harvard in the late 1960s, we want to remind readers--including present members of Harvard’s staff, student body and faculty--of the motivations for that widely-supported struggle against ROTC. At the time, the U.S. military was carrying out a war, based on a flagrant lie (the Bay of Tonkin ‘incident” which soon after was revealed never to have happened). This war resulted in the loss of 3 million Vietnamese lives (10%-12% of its population), poisoning of large tracts of land through use of toxic defoliants, uncountable casualties, tens of thousands killed in Laos and Cambodia, as well as tens of thousands American soldiers, many of whom were sent to Vietnam against their will. In doing so, the U.S. government committed a series of horrendous war crimes, including rape, murder of civilians, ecocide and torture. These crimes occurred in the context of a war of aggression, considered at Nuremberg to be the supreme war crime since it includes all the other war crimes. Since the War in Vietnam, the U.S. military has continued a pattern of invasion (Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq), covert overthrow of elected governments (e.g. Chile), torture and other belligerent and criminal interferences abroad. We now find ourselves in an Orwellian state of perpetual war, with tragic consequences for millions of people around the world, for U.S. military personnel, for the U.S. economy and for the U.S. polity which has been increasingly militarized since Eisenhower’s famous warning of the growth and influence of the “military-industrial complex.” Harvard University, by accepting ROTC back on campus, not only subverts its own claims to political neutrality and intellectual freedom, since ROTC’s curriculum is dictated and overseen, not by the University but by the military; it also gives aid and comfort to a military—unfortunately our own—which commits war crimes and wreaks havoc abroad. We invite all members of the community to express their displeasure with this turn of events.

*Biden initially dismissed Wikileaks as “not revealing anything new.” This is not true – the documents underline and detail the grim criminality of much American militarism and even, sadly, diplomacy (Ambassador Aguirre, as I have emphasized trying to halt Spanish justice in investigating the murder by American soldiers of the journalist Jose Couso at the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in 2003 is one of many examples; see here and here). Biden’s statement backhandedly recognized that it would be a fantasy under American law to indict an Australian for publishing documents, even if they had been classified by the government as secret.

But the loony authoritarians are howling on the right about the government murdering Assange, or changing the Constitution to be able to indict him (Joe Lieberman), since I guess, in a police state, why do you need a Constitution? Pseudo-reverence for the document fades quickly on the Right (the political Straussians and neocons prefer a police state). Even four justices on the Supreme Court seek to enact Carl Schmitt’s “state of the exception” – i.e. government “prerogative” to do whatever it wants to prisoners at Guantanamo and elsewhere in violation of the rule of law and decency. Under pressure, Biden suddenly announced that Assange, now an international hero of resistance. is a “high tech terrorist.”

What “terror” has Assange, or private Bradley Manning, whose torture – extreme solitary confinement – the United Nations’s special rapporteur on torture is now investigating – committed? If Manning did what is alleged in the press (no charges have been preferred by the government), he committed a nonviolent crime, though nothing in relation to the mass, violent criminality (aggression, torture, indefinite detentions, kidnapping, and the like) of the United States government. Probably torture for seven months and very likely altering his personality permanently is already a very heavy – though illegal under American law – price. Assange did no crime – though he was, of cours,e labeled by Sarah Palin, with her usual keen grip on reality, a “traitor” (one would have thought Assange, an Australian, could not commit treason in a country of which he is not a citizen, but…).

Biden voted for the Iraq war, an aggression which has cost the lives of perhaps a million Iraqi civilians (Rumsfeld forbade the military from keeping a count, or at least publicizing it, in the initial period of the war, so it is very difficult to say). He has favored firing murderous drone missiles here and there. His comment is not true of Assange, but is a psychological projection about himself.

The charmed circle of the corporate media prints this silly judgment without question. Among the rest of the world and many who see clearly in the United States, it is despicable. When Biden wrote his Christmas letter, omitting the continuing war in Afghanistan, perhaps he revealed that even he has some slinking awareness of facts…

**Four of the first 100 American soldiers killed in Afghanstan were illegals. After their deaths, Congress debated whether or not to make them citizens. This aspect of the Dream Act responded to their dilemma. (Among Senators and Representatives, Jim Webb excepted, who don’t send their children to fight the wars, this discussion is something only a Jonathan Swift might have imagined…)

Of course, a civilized and pragmatic regime rather than a stupid and racist one would make bright young people who been Americans all their lives and finished high school eligible for funds to go to college. But despite 55 votes in the Senate, the Dream Act failed. Plainly a majority of representatives and more importantly, a huge and courageous movement are, in this respect, fighting for decency in the United States.

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