Wednesday, September 18, 2019

US IMPERIALISM IN LATIN AMERICA CONTINUES: From Undermining Governments to Causing Migrations of People

Harry Targ

The world again enters an economic, political, and military crisis in the Western Hemisphere. It remains important to think historically about last January’s call by the United States and 10 hemisphere countries for President Nicholas Maduro to step down as President of Venezuela, increases in the blockade of Cuba, the undermining of economy and political institutions in Puerto Rico, and the desperate migration of Central Americans fleeing repression. For many who are learning about US imperialism for the first time, it is important to revisit the history of the Western Hemisphere and to contextualize regional crises, including the sordid treatment of those fleeing violence and poverty and the borders of the United States.
A Brief History

As Greg Grandin argues in “Empire’s Workshop,” the rise of the United States as a global empire began in the Western Hemisphere. For example, the United States took one-quarter of Mexico’s land as a result of the Mexican War of the 1840s. Later in the nineteenth century, the United States interfered in the Cuban Revolution defeating Spain in the Spanish/Cuban/American War of 1898. And, at the same time, the United States attacked the Spanish outpost in the Philippines (while colonizing Puerto Rico and Hawaii) thus becoming a global power. Latin American interventionism throughout the Western Hemisphere, sending troops into Central American and Caribbean countries thirty times between the 1890s and 1933, “tested” what would become after World War II a pattern of covert interventions and wars in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The Western Hemisphere was first colonized by Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and France from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. The main source of accumulated wealth funding the rise of capitalism as a world system came from raw material and slave labor in the Western Hemisphere: gold, silver, sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, indigo, and later oil. What Marx called the stage of “primitive accumulation,” was a period in world history governed by land grabs, mass slaughter of indigenous peoples, expropriation of natural resources, and the capture, transport, and enslavement of millions of African people. Conquest, land occupation, and dispossession was coupled with the institutionalization of a Church that would convince the survivors of this stage of capitalism’s development that all was “God’s plan.”

Imperial expansion generated resistance throughout this history.  In the nineteenth century countries and peoples achieved their formal independence from colonial rule. Simon Bolivar, the nineteenth century leader of resistance, spoke for national sovereignty in Latin America.
But from 1898 until the present, the Western Hemisphere has been shaped by US efforts to replace the traditional colonial powers with neo-colonial regimes. Economic institutions, class systems, militaries, and religious institutions were influenced by United States domination of the region.

In the period of the Cold War, 1945-1991, the United States played the leading role in overthrowing the reformist government of Jacob Arbenz in Guatemala (1954), Salvador Allende in Chile (1973), and gave support to brutal military dictatorships in the 1970s in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. The Reagan administration engaged in a decade-long war on Central America in the 1980s.  In 1989 the United States sent 23,000 marines to overthrow the government of Manuel Noriega in Panama. (This was a prelude to Gulf War I against Iraq).
From 1959 until today the United States has sought through attempted military intervention, economic blockade, cultural intrusion, and international pressures to undermine, weaken, and destroy the Cuban Revolution.

Often during this dark history US policymakers have sought to mask interventionism in the warm glow of economic development. President Kennedy called for an economic development program in Latin America, called the Alliance for Progress and Operation Bootstrap for Puerto Rico. Even the harsh “shock therapy” of neoliberalism imposed on Bolivia in the 1980s was based upon the promise of rapid economic development in that country.
The Bolivarian Revolution

The 21st century has witnessed a variety of forms of resistance to the drive for global hegemony and the perpetuation of neoliberal globalization. First, the two largest economies in the world, China and India, have experienced economic growth rates well in excess of the industrial capitalist countries. China has developed a global export and investment program in Latin America and Africa that exceeds that of the United States and Europe.

On the Latin American continent, under the leadership and inspiration of former President Hugo Chavez Venezuela launched the latest round of state resistance to the colossus of the north, with his Bolivarian Revolution. He planted the seeds of socialism at home and encouraged Latin Americans to participate in the construction of financial institutions and economic assistance programs to challenge the traditional hegemony of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

The Bolivarian Revolution stimulated political change based on varying degrees of grassroots democratization, the construction of workers’ cooperatives, and a shift from neoliberal economic policies to economic populism. A Bolivarian Revolution was being constructed with a growing web of participants: Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and, of course, Cuba.

It was hoped that even after the premature death of Chavez in 2013, the Bolivarian Revolution would continue in Venezuela and throughout the region. But the economic ties and political solidarity of progressive regimes, hemisphere regional institutions, and grassroots movements have been challenged by declining oil prices and economic errors; increasing covert intervention in Venezuelan affairs by the United States; a US-encouraged shift to the right by “soft coups” in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador; and a more aggressive United States foreign policy toward Latin America. Governments supportive of Latin American solidarity with Venezuela have been undermined and/or defeated in elections in Honduras, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and now attacks have escalated against what former National Security Advisor John Bolton calls “the troika of tyranny;” Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.  As Vijay Prashad puts it: “Far right leaders in the hemisphere (Bolsonaro, Márquez, and Trump) salivate at the prospect of regime change in each of these countries. They want to eviscerate the “pink tide” from the region” (Vijay Prashad,, January 20, 2019).

Special Dilemmas Latin Americans Face

Historically all Western Hemisphere countries have been shaped and distorted in their economies, polities, and cultures by colonialism and neo-colonialism. They have also been shaped by their long histories of resistance to outside forces seeking to develop imperial hegemony. Latin American history is both a history of oppression, exploitation, and violence, and confrontation with mass movements of various kinds. Also, it is important to emphasize that the imperial system has created complicit and repressive regimes in Latin and Central America and have generated extremes of wealth and poverty. Military repression and extreme poverty within countries have forced migrations of people seeking some physical and economic security. Armed with this understanding several historical realities bear on the current crises in the region, including the emigration of people from their countries.
First, every country, with the exception of Cuba, experiences deep class divisions. Workers, peasants, the new precariat, people of color, youth, and women face off against very wealthy financiers, entrepreneurs, and industrialists, often with family ties, as well as corporate ties, with the United States. Whether one is trying to understand the soft coup in Brazil, the instability in Nicaragua, or the deep divisions in Venezuela, class struggle is a central feature of whatever conflicts are occurring.

Second, United States policy in the administrations of both political parties is fundamentally driven by opposition to the full independence of Latin America. US policy throughout the new century has been inalterably opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution. Consequently, a centerpiece of United States policy is to support by whatever means the wealthy classes in each country.
Third, as a byproduct of the colonial and neo-colonial stages in the region, local ruling classes and their North American allies have supported the creation of sizable militaries. Consequently, in political and economic life, the military remains a key actor in each country in the region. Most often, the military serves the interests of the wealthy class (or is part of it), and works overtly or covertly to resist democracy, majority rule, and the grassroots. Consequently, each progressive government in the region has had to figure out how to relate to the military. In the case of Chile, President Allende assumed the military would stay neutral in growing political disputes among competing class forces. But the Nixon Administration was able to identify and work with generals who ultimately carried out a military coup against the popular elected socialist government of Chile. So far in the Venezuelan case, the military seems to be siding with the government. Chavez himself was a military officer.

Fourth, given the rise of grassroots movements, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela began to support “dual power,” particularly at the local level. Along with political institutions that traditionally were controlled by the rich and powerful, new local institutions of popular power were created. The establishment of popular power has been a key feature of many governments ever since the Cuban Revolution. Popular power, to varying degrees, is replicated in economic institutions, in culture, and in community life such that in Venezuela and elsewhere workers and peasants see their own empowerment as tied to the survival of revolutionary governments. In short, defense of the Maduro government, depends on the continuing support of the grassroots and the military.
Fifth, the governments of the Bolivarian Revolution face many obstacles. Small but powerful capitalist classes is one. Persistent United States covert operations and military bases throughout the region is another. And, perhaps most importantly, given the hundreds of years of colonial and neo-colonial rule, Latin American economies remain distorted by over-reliance on small numbers of raw materials and, as a result of pressure from international financial institutions, on export of selected products such as agricultural crops. In other words, historically Latin American economies have been distorted by the pressure on them to create one-crop economies to serve the interests of powerful capitalist countries, not diversified economies to serve the people.

Sixth, United States policy toward the region from time to time is affected by the exigencies of domestic politics. For example, the Trump Administration verbal threats against Venezuela are being articulated as the president’s domestic fortunes are being challenged by the threat of impeachment and confrontations with the new Congressional leadership. War often masks domestic troubles.
Finally, the long history of colonialism, neo-colonialism, “land grabs” such as taking one third of Mexico, and the establishment of repressive regimes in the Western Hemisphere coupled with the establishment of draconian neo-liberal economic policies set in motion desperate migrations of people fleeing repression, violence, and abject poverty. The migration crisis today, the creation of virtual concentration camps of people at the United States border, is a direct result of over one hundred years of United States foreign policy.

Where do Progressives Stand
First, and foremost, progressives should prioritize an understanding of imperialism, colonialism, neocolonialism, and the role of Latin American as the “laboratory” for testing United States interventionist foreign policies. This means that critics of US imperialism can be most effective by avoiding “purity tests” when contemplating political activism around US foreign policy. One cannot forget the connections between current patterns of policy toward Venezuela, with the rhetoric, the threats, the claims, and US policies toward Guatemala, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and in the new century, Bolivia, Venezuela, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.

Second, progressives need to show solidarity with grassroots movements in the region, support human rights, oppose military interventions, and demand the closure of the myriad of United States military bases in the region and end training military personnel from the region. 
Third, progressives should realize that as tensions rise again in the hemisphere there are growing dangers of violence spreading throughout Latin America. By attacking “the troika of tyranny,” the United States is increasing the likelihood of class war throughout the region. And, given growing Chinese and Russian economic and political involvement in the Western Hemisphere, it is not inconceivable for regional war to escalate to global war.
Finally, progressives must stand and fight against brutal and inhuman United States border policies and the establishment of concentration camps that violate every element of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The migrations and the oftentimes brutal responses at the border are inextricably connected to the historic role of the United States in the Western hemisphere.

In short, the time has come to stand up against United States imperialism.
(A useful history of United States interventionism can be found in Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Henry Holt, 2006).

Monday, September 16, 2019


The Unhappy Marriage of Political Control and Academic Freedom in Higher Education

Harry Targ

December 1, 2015

And at college after college in recent years, students have rallied to block appearances by speakers whose views don't jibe with current campus orthodoxy. Most of those speakers are conservatives. (Rem Rieder, "Campuses Need First Amendment Training," USA Today-Journal and Courier, November 29, 2015, 8B).

(An update on conservative campaigns in defense of “free speech.”)

Stories about academic freedom and free speech have been appearing in newspapers more frequently over the last few weeks. And curiously enough political actors on and off campus who traditionally have been least likely to be concerned about these subjects are becoming its major advocates. 

Historically, universities, like most institutions in society, have been designed by and served the interests of the dominant powers. Higher education in the United States from the seventeenth century until the civil war educated theologians and lawyers to take leading positions in the political and economic system. As the nation was transformed by the industrial revolution, universities became training grounds and research tools for the rise of modern capitalism. Young people, to advance the needs of a modern economic system, were educated to be scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and managers. Economists were produced to develop theories that justified the essential features of capitalism. 

After the rise of the United States as a world power in the 1890s, higher education increasingly included studies of international relations, weapons systems, and the particular mission of powerful nations in the world. In sum, the historical function of the American university since the 1860s has been to mobilize knowledge and trained personnel to service a modern economy and a global political power.

The conception of the university articulated by intellectuals through the centuries, however, also implied an intellectual space where ideas about scientific truths, engineering possibilities, ethical systems, the products of culture, and societal ideals would be discussed and debated. During various periods in United States history, during and after the Spanish-American War, the Progressive era, World War I and its aftermath, the Great Depression, and the Vietnam War era, for example, the university became the site for intellectual contestation. But during most periods of United States history unpopular ideas introduced in the academy by faculty or students were subject to repression, firings of faculty, and expulsion of students. This was particularly true during World War I and the depths of the Cold War. 

It was out of the many forms of repression that faculty and student associations advocated for the idea of academic freedom. Articulated by philosopher John Dewey early in the twentieth century and formalized by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the principle, not the practice, was enshrined in official statements by both university administrators and faculty.

Despite the broadly endorsed tradition faculty were purged from universities during the 1940s and 1950s, not primarily because of their teaching and research activities, but because of alleged political associations off campus. Others were fired or did not have contracts renewed because their teaching and research challenged reigning orthodoxies about economics, politics, and war and peace. In the 1960s, universities sought to restrict the free speech rights of students as well. 

For a time as a result of the tumult of the 1960s, universities began to provide more space for competing ideas, theories, approaches to education, and allowed for some discussion of fundamental societal problems including class exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia, and long-term environmental devastation. 

But by the 1990s, reaction against the expanded meaning of academic freedom set in. The National Association of Scholars was created by political conservatives to challenge the new openness in scholarship and debate on campus. Right-wing foundations funded David Horowitz to launch a systematic attack on faculty deemed "dangerous." Horowitz unsuccessfully tried to organize students to lobby state legislators to establish rules impinging on university prerogatives as to hiring of faculty and curricula. Politicians targeted scholars deemed most threatening including such noted researchers and teachers as Howard Zinn, William Ayres, Ward Churchill, and Judith Butler. The attacks of the last decade were based more on the ideas which "dangerous" professors articulated than their associations.

Since the upsurge in police violence against African Americans and terrorist attacks on Planned Parenthood, and rising Islamophobia and homophobia, a new generation of student activists has emerged challenging violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Students have protested against police shootings everywhere and they have linked the general increase in violence and racism to the indignities they suffer on their own campuses. 

In response to the events at the University of Missouri, student activists around the country have brought demands to administrators challenging the many manifestations of racism and other indignities experienced at their schools. The response at almost all colleges and universities has not been to address the demands raised by students but instead to change the discourse from the original issues to the protection of academic freedom and free speech. In other words, university administrators and media pundits, as the quote above suggests, have swept student complaints under the rug and have used the time-honored defense of academic freedom and free speech to ignore the reality of racism, sexism, and homophobia. The defense of free speech has become a smokescreen. 

Academic freedom and free speech must be defended. But it must be understood that today those who most loudly defend them are doing so to avoid addressing the critical issues around class, race, gender, homophobia, and violence that grip the nation and the world. 

(For a more detailed rendition of political repression in higher education see Harry Targ, "Red Scares in Higher Education: Reinventing the Narrative of Academic Freedom," Diary of a Heartland Radical, May 21, 2015.)

[Harry Targ taught foreign policy,US/Latin American relations, international political economy, and topics on labor studies in a Department of Political Science and a program in Peace Studies. He sees connections between theory/education and political practice. Targ is a member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO),and the Lafayette Area Peace Coalition (LAPC). His book, Diary of a Heartland Radical, can be ordered at 

Monday, September 2, 2019


Harry Targ

What we are seeing today is a new iteration of that very old impulse in America: the quest of some of the propertied (always, it bears noting, a particularly ideologically extreme-and some would say greedy-subsection of the propertied) to restrict the promise of democracy for the many, acting in the knowledge that the majority would choose other policies if it could. (Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, New York, Random House, 2017).
Less obvious…was the struggle led by national business leaders…to reshape the ideas, images, and attitudes through which Americans understood their world, specifically their understanding of their relationship to the corporation and the state. … The struggle to undercut organized labor’s and the state’s ideological hold over the working class and to protect this vision took place within a variety of contexts (Elizabeth A. Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism 1945-60, 1995).

The Threat to Democracy
Despite the recent death of one of the Koch brothers, the idea of market fundamentalism, unless confronted, will remain a constant feature of American political life. And, as Nancy MacLean suggests, this idea has institutionalized a fundamental contradiction between democracy and capitalism.

To explain the contradiction, Nancy MacLean analyzes central premises of the so-called Austrian school of economics. Nineteenth and twentieth century luminaries from this tradition, particularly Ludwig Von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, articulated the view that the main priority of any society, but particularly democracies, is to allow markets to flourish unencumbered by government.

According to this view in a truly free society markets remain supreme. In fact, “liberty” exists in a society to the extent economic actors can act freely in the marketplace. Virtually all limitations on economic liberty, market fundamentalists say, constitute a threat to “real” democracy. Governments exist only to maintain domestic order (the police power) and to defend the nation from external aggression (defense of national security): thus providing police protection and armies. And that should be all. Otherwise, as President Ronald Reagan expressed the market vision: “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.”

As an example, MacLean describes the brutal dictatorship that overthrew the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Allende, a socialist, was elected by a plurality in the 1970 presidential election in that country and in the spring, 1973 in municipal elections held across the country, Allende’s coalition of parties drew even more votes for their candidates than did Allende in 1970. The United States, based on directives from President Nixon, had already moved to make the Chilean economy “scream” and had initiated contacts with Chilean generals who would be prepared to carry out a military coup against the popular government.  The military coup, ousting Allende from power, was launched, ironically on September 11, 1973.

As MacLean points out, in the aftermath of the coup, General Augusto Pinochet rounded up and killed thousands of Allende supporters, destroyed the long tradition of electoral politics, abolished trade unions, and began the process of ending government involvement in the economy and public institutions. Social security and education were privatized. Policies of nationalization of key industries were reversed. All of the shifts to what the Austrian school called economic liberty were imposed on the Chilean people with the advice of University of Chicago economists, such as Milton Friedman, and later, George Mason University economist, James Buchanan, who was instrumental in recommending “reforms” to the Chilean constitution making return to democracy more difficult. Subsequently only a few other dictatorships in Latin America showed any sympathy for the Pinochet regime with most of the world condemning its domestic brutality. But as MacLean reports, Milton Friedman and his colleagues never condemned the Chilean regime and Buchanan regarded it as a paradigmatic case of economic liberty, a model which the world should emulate.

Although the Chilean case represents an extreme example of dictatorship and free market capitalism, she uses it to illustrate a central point. In most societies, and the United States is no exception, majorities of people endorse government policies that can and often do serve the people. As a rule, citizens support public transportation, schools, highways, libraries, retirement guarantees, some publicly provided health care, rules and regulations to protect the environment, guarantees for the right of workers to form unions, as well as police and military protection. The problem for Buchanan and his colleagues is that each one of these government programs, except for the police and military, constrain the “liberty” of entrepreneurs to pursue profit.

To put it simply, if citizens of the United States were asked if they support public programs, majorities would say “yes.” Although there have been extraordinary constraints on majority rule, even enshrined in the US constitution, the history of the United States can be seen as a history of struggle to improve and achieve majoritarian democracy. Demands for voting rights for women, African/Americans, non-propertied and low-income workers and others have been basic to the American experience. The great anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century across the globe were premised on the vision of individual and collective sovereignty of the people. If economic liberty is conceptualized as inversely related to majoritarian democracy, then capitalism and democracy are incompatible.

Nancy MacLean, based on this fundamental contradiction, develops a narrative of efforts by celebrants of economic liberty, the Koch brothers and their allies, to build campaigns in virtually every state and locale to disenfranchise people. ALEC affiliates in state legislatures over the last decade have promoted legislation to suppress the right to vote, eliminate the rights of workers to unionize, disempower city councils, eliminate the right of local governments to make fiscal decisions, and to enshrine in curricula in K to 12 education systems and the universities ideologies about the virtues of economic freedom. There are powerful political pressures to privatize every existing public institution. Again, the best government is no government (except for the maintenance of police force to squelch demands for change and military power to protect the nation at home and abroad). In sum, Nancy MacLean is warning us that there is a powerful drive, based on wealth and power, in the United States to destroy democracy. This democracy, while flawed, has been fought for since the founding of the United States. Its continuation, leaving aside its need for improvement, is under fundamental threat.

“Selling Free Enterprise”

While the drive for market fundamentalism has become particularly intense in the twenty-first century, the fundamental “battle of ideas” that shape the ways in which working people understand their connections to government, unions, community, and the economic system go back many years. In two brilliant books, Selling Free Enterprise (1994) and Waves of Opposition (2006), Fones-Wolf describes the public sphere, media, education, religious institutions, and political assemblies as sites for critical debate about the kind of society that can best serve workers. The histories she presents cover the 1930s through the 1950s, but the lessons of her history bear upon the ideological struggles perpetuated by the Koch brothers and their allies today.

In the first book, Selling Free Enterprise,  the author describes the open-ended possibilities for political change, it was hoped, which could have been crafted as World War II ended. The war began at a time when workers, through their own mass action, had created the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), a militant federation of four million factory workers in electronics, steel, auto, meat packing, mining and smelting, and other industrial and white-collar unions. To help the war effort, CIO unions pledged to avoid strikes in the name of national security. But, when the war ended, workers expected to play a significant role in constructing public policy and shaping the kind of political and economic system that would serve their needs.

Fones-Wolf documents the worldview that guided workers and their unions after the war. They believed in the right of workers to form unions that would represent their interests at the point of production. They believed that government must play a basic role in promoting an improved quality of life for all. They believed that workers derive their freedom and happiness from active participation in communities at the local and national levels. And the character of “free enterprise” was to be circumscribed by the common good. The public good was more important than private property.

The capitalist class, Fones-Wolf argues, had a diametrically opposed view of the political, economic, and even cultural world that needed to be created after the war. Unions represented tyranny, not the interests of workers. Government was a hindrance to human well-being. The more government insinuated itself into the lives of people the worse off they would be. Community, unless it was organized by human relations offices of big corporations, restricted freedom. Individualism, not community, was the bulwark of a free society. And basic to individualism, the capitalists argued, was the “free market,” “free enterprise,” and private property.

Selling Free Enterprise describes the battles over these two fundamentally different worldviews, community versus individualism, in factories, in schools, in churches, in local elections. Such capitalist arms as the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce employed factory owners, clergymen, educators and think tanks, the press, radio and television to promote their vision of post-war America using millions of dollars and penetrating every city and town across the United States.

Although the labor movement, peace and justice activists, moderate church people and others challenged the “free enterprise” model of society from 1945 until 1960, they were no match for the money and power of big capital. The free marketeers also utilized the Cold War and the specter of “worldwide communism” to purge those forces that sought to create an egalitarian and communitarian America. While the different ideologies were contested in the 1940s and 1950s, by the early 1960s the capitalist class had achieved ideological hegemony.

Fones-Wolf wrote Waves of Opposition, (University of Illinois Press, 2006) to describe the efforts of labor and progressive groups to have their voices heard on radio, the dominant medium for news and culture from the 1930s until the late 1950s. Corporate elites, CEOs of the major radio networks, and government agents limited the rights of trade unionists to have access to the air waves. Exceptions were noted in the post-war period when AFL and CIO paid programs appeared on national radio and a few union locals were able to buy air- time in their communities to run programs describing the activities of their locals. In a few instances, local labor owned or operated radio stations. One of the longest running efforts was WCFL, out of Chicago. It was a “voice of labor” station operating from the 1920s to the 1970s. But, Fones-Wolf points out, it took major struggles for labor to gain recognition and access to the air waves. With corporate media concentration, the modest foothold labor had in radio, and even less in television, was lost.

The struggles, so graphically described by Fones-Wolf, are being played out today. The age of “neo-liberalism,” ushered in by the Reagan administration and sustained by politicians of both mainstream parties was sold to the American people in ideological terms. A worldview based on individualism, free enterprise, private property, limited government, and the magic of the marketplace was slickly packaged and sold while state/corporate power was used to crush the labor movement. Even the modest “welfare state” model of public/private sector collaboration was challenged by neo-liberal spokespersons.

With increasing media concentration, approximately ten media conglomerates control about fifty percent of all we read, see, and hear, neo-liberalism crushed any alternative visions that stepped in its path. Even when policies are discussed, neo-liberalism reflected in talk radio and rightwing television dominates what and how issues are debated.

Fones-Wolf’s story is about the defeat of workers; Nancy MacLean’s about the threat to democracy. These narratives about the early period of post-war America and the politics of the twenty-first century suggest that struggles for a better future must be fought on the ideological as well as the policy levels. Fundamental concepts such as community versus individualism, government versus free enterprise, and worker rights versus corporate control must be debated. The case should be made that the communitarian, participatory, egalitarian vision of a just society deeply embedded in United States history are constantly challenged by “the propertied” and “national business leaders.” The vision of community once again needs to be brought to union halls, churches, public libraries, schools and universities, and all other social institutions and open spaces where people must decide on their collective future.

Friday, August 30, 2019


Harry Targ 
(An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Rag Blog, September 17, 2013)

Continued study and research into the origins of the folk music of various peoples in many parts of the world revealed that there is a world body-a universal body-of folk music based upon a universal pentatonic (five tone) scale. Interested as I am in the universality of (hu)mankind-in the fundamental relationship of all peoples to one another-this idea of a universal body of music intrigued me, and I pursed it along many fascinating paths. (Paul Robeson, Here I Stand, 1959).

America’s destiny required the U.S. “…to set the world its example of right and honor…We cannot retreat from any soil where providence has unfurled our banner. It is ours to save that soil, for liberty, and civilization….It is is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth.” (Senator Albert Beveridge, Indiana, Congressional Record, 56 Congress, I Session, pp.704-712, 1898).

Let’s be clear. United States foreign policy over the last 150 years has been a reflection of many forces including economics, politics, militarism and the desire to control territory. The most important idea used by each presidential administration to gain support from the citizenry for the pursuit of empire is the claim that America is “exceptional”. 

Think about the view of “the city on the hill” articulated by Puritan ancestors who claimed that they were creating a social experiment that would inspire the world. Over three hundred years later President Reagan again spoke of “the city on the hill.” Or one can recall public addresses of turn of the twentieth century luminaries such as former President Theodore Roosevelt who claimed that the white race from Europe and North America was civilizing the peoples of what we would now call the Global South.  Or Indiana Senator Beveridge’s clear statement: “It is elemental…It is racial.” From the proclamation of the new nation’s special purpose in Puritan America, to Ronald Reagan’s reiteration of the claim, to similar claims by virtually all politicians of all political affiliations, Americans hear over and over that we are different, special, and a shining example of public virtue that all other peoples should use as their guide to building a better society and polity.

However, looking at data on the United States role in the world, the United States was at war for 201 years from 1776 to 2011. Ten million indigenous people were exterminated as the “new” nation moved westward between the 17th and the 20th centuries and at least 10 million people were killed, mostly from developing countries between 1945 and 2010 in wars in which the United States had some role. In addition, world affairs was transformed by the singular use of two atomic bombs; one dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 instantly killing 80,000 people and the other on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 killing another 70,000.

Comparing the image of exceptionalism with the domestic reality of American life suggests stark contrasts as well: continuous and growing gaps between rich and poor, inadequate nutrition and health care for significant portions of the population, massive domestic gun violence, and inadequate access to the best education that the society has the capacity to provide to all. Of course, the United States was a slave society for over 200 years formally racially segregated for another 100, and now incarcerates 15 percent of African American men in their twenties. And now thousands of refugees from violence and poverty in Central America are housed in concentration camps or removed from the United States because they are "illegal."

The United States is not the only country that has a history of imperialism, exploitation, violence, and racism but we must understand that our foreign policy and economic and political system are not exceptional and must be changed.

Finally, a better future and the survival of the human race require us to realize, as Paul Robeson suggested, what is precious about humanity is not our differences but our commonalities. Exceptionalist thinking separates us. Sharing what we have in common as human beings, both our troubles and our talents, is the only basis for creating a peaceful and just world.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019



Paul Robeson. Photo from Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives.

Remembering Paul Robeson:
Seventy years after the Peekskill Riots

By Harry Targ (the original essay appeared in The Rag Blog / September 4, 2009)

On September 4, 1949, an angry crowd surrounded the 20,000 friends of Paul Robeson who had come to hear him in an open-air concert at Peekskill, New York. After the event right-wing, anti-communist inspired mobs attacked supporters who were leaving the event. These attacks included smashing the windows of Pete Seeger’s automobile with several family members inside. Seventy years later we remember the great progressive Paul Robeson, his struggles for justice, and his refusal to bow to the politics of reaction.

The Young Robeson

One of the giants of the twentieth century, a citizen of the world, an actor/singer and activist for justice, Paul Robeson has been virtually erased from popular consciousness, a victim of the vicious anti-communist hysteria of the 1940s and 1950s.

Paul Robeson, an African-American, was born to Maria Louis Bustill and William Drew Robeson in Princeton, New Jersey in 1898, 33 years after the close of the civil war and two years after the United States Supreme Court declared in Plessy vs. Ferguson that separate institutions for Black and white people were constitutional. New Jersey, while not segregated to the extent of the deep South, was hostile to the rights of Black people.

Robeson was born into a family with a long-standing commitment to struggle for justice. His mother’s ancestors participated in the underground railroad, bringing escaped slaves from the South to the North. Her family included ministers, teachers, and artisans in the Northern free Black community. His father was a slave who escaped to the north and joined the Union army. As a minister educated at Lincoln University, Robeson’s father defended the rights of Black people in the New Jersey communities where he worked.

Many years later when he was politically active, Robeson would refer to the experiences of his people struggling against slavery and oppression to be free. He likened the struggles of his ancestors to the Black people of his day, and also to factory workers seeking labor rights, and peoples all round the world who were struggling to overthrow European colonial empires.

The young Robeson studied hard, was coached in elocution by his demanding father and performed so well in school that he was admitted to Rutgers University in 1915, only the third Black ever to enter that institution. Robeson graduated in 1919 as valedictorian, champion debater, and two-time All-American first-team football selection.

Robeson attended law school at Columbia University from 1919-1923 but decided against a law career because of the racism he faced at a preeminent New York law firm.

While he attended law school, Robeson began appearing in plays and found his way to the influential Provincetown Players of Greenwich Village. Robeson’s artistic career was successfully launched by his performances in two of Eugene O’Neill’s most important and controversial plays, “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” and “Emperor Jones.” From there his reputation and visibility spread.

By the late 1920s, he appeared in “Porgy,” “Stevedore” and “Showboat,” where he sang “Old Man River,” a song that would have deep political significance for him later on. On tour in Europe in the late 1920s and starring in a London production of “Othello,” in 1930, Robeson had become a star of worldwide proportions. During the 1930s, he would appear in eleven films, mostly British productions, further solidifying his global reputation as an actor.

As his reputation was soaring in the theatre of the 1920s, Robeson came to the realization that the rich musical heritage of his people, then called Negro Spirituals, needed to be celebrated and performed. He thus launched a singing career that would be his most enduring contribution to U.S. culture and, at the same time, would serve as a vehicle for him to participate in the struggle of Black people to achieve their freedom from racism and Jim Crow segregation. Over the next thirty years, he would learn at least a dozen languages and would celebrate the musical traditions of peoples from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America, as well as the United States.

The Politicization of Paul Robeson

By the mid-1930s, Robeson’s outlook concerning the world around him and how the artist must relate to that world had changed significantly. Always aware of racism and segregation, Robeson began to see the oppression of his people as similar and related to the world of anti-Semitism, colonialism, worker exploitation, and attacks on the first socialist state, the Soviet Union.

Leaving a London theatre after a performance of Showboat in 1928, Robeson encountered a massive march of Welsh miners who had come all the way from Wales to demand better wages and working conditions. Robeson spoke to their group and joined their struggle. The mutual love and respect Robeson and the Welsh miners developed for each other would last for the rest of his life.

But it was the escalating Spanish Civil war, fascist armies fighting to overthrow a democratically elected government, that led Robeson to declare his commitment to political struggle on behalf of the dispossessed. In a speech given before the National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief at Royal Albert Hall on June 24, 1937 he proclaimed: “I have longed to see my talent contributing in an unmistakably clear manner to the cause of humanity. Every artist, every scientist, must decide NOW where he stands. He has no alternative.” The artist he said “must elect to fight for freedom or slavery.”

Robeson spoke out for workers, walked their picket lines, and sang to gatherings of trade unionists in auto, steel, shipping, meat packing, electrical, and mining industries who were demanding the right to form unions during the massive organizing drives of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). He sang of that great IWW labor singer/ organizer, “Joe Hill.” And he sang songs championing racial justice.

Red Scares

After World War II, Robeson met with President Truman and demanded that he take a stand against segregation and support anti-lynching legislation in the South. He already had spoken out against the exclusion of Blacks from major league baseball. Opposing the Cold War and Truman’s refusal to stand against segregation in the South, Robeson joined the campaign of third party candidate Henry Wallace, of the Progressive Party of America, who was running for president in 1948.

Robeson had often visited the Soviet Union, befriended the great Soviet film maker Eisenstein and had spoken with admiration about what appeared to be the lack of racism there. After World War II and as the Cold War was heating up, the U.S. government and right wing groups launched a campaign to stifle the voice of Paul Robeson because of his sympathies for the Soviet Union and his strong advocacy for racial justice in the United States.

He was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Thugs vandalized and beat attendees at the summer Robeson concert in Peekskill, New York. Government agents pressured concert impresarios to stop sponsoring Robeson concerts. And when his public access to audiences declined in the 1950s, even Black churches were pressured to cancel Robeson visits.

The centerpiece of the effort to muzzle Robeson was the decision of the State Department to revoke his passport in 1950. He was forbidden to leave the United States even though he still was a beloved worldwide figure. His passport was not reinstated until 1958 when the Supreme Court ruled that the State Department did not have the right to confiscate the passports of citizens..

Despite his not being able to travel, working people around the world continued to support Robeson. Canadian trade unionists from 1952 through 1955 organized four Robeson concerts at the border between the state of Washington and Canada. Robeson performed from the U.S. side and Canadian workers listened to his music from their side. Robeson welcomed the Canadian workers at the 1952 concert singing his signature song, “Old Man River,” from Showboat. He sang the lyrics he had revised from the original version in the 1928 musical -- from stereotyping of Black people as docile to Black people as fighters for their freedom. Robeson began to insert the newer progressive lyrics in the 1930s when his own political consciousness had begun to change and for the rest of his life he saw the new lyrics as emblematic of his own political transformation.

In 1957, Welsh miners organized a chorus in a London studio and sang to Robeson listening in New York using the then new long distance telephone lines. They always remembered his support for their struggle and they wanted to demonstrate to him and the world their opposition to the efforts of the United States to stifle the voice of Paul Robeson.

After Robeson’s passport was reissued he resumed worldwide travel in the late 1950s. He fell ill in 1961, returned to the United States and for the most part retired from public life.

Robeson believed that peoples everywhere shared common musical forms and common struggles: workers, peoples of color, colonized peoples, women. He celebrated their differences but insisted on their human oneness. Perhaps we need to rediscover that vision again today. He died in 1976 but his spirited call for human solidarity is just as precious today as it was in his lifetime. And, as at Peekskill, those who support human solidarity must be prepared to “hold the line” against reaction.

'Hold The Line'

Let me tell you the story of a line that was held,
And many brave men and women whose courage we know well,
How we held the line at Peekskill on that long September day!
We will hold the line forever till the people have their way.

Hold the line! Hold the line!
As we held the line at Peekskill
We will hold it everywhere.
Hold the line! Hold the line!
We will hold the line forever
Till there’s freedom ev’rywhere.

Words by Lee Hays; Music by Pete Seeger (1949)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


Harry Targ

Why Migration
People migrate from one place to another for a variety of reasons. A good part of that migration has to do with international relations, national economies, and the increasingly globalized economy. Literally millions of people have moved from one geographic space to another in the twenty-first century, in most cases for reasons of physical fear or economic need. Two prominent causes that “push” people to leave their communities and homeland relate to “hybrid wars” and neoliberal globalization.

Hybrid wars refer to the long-term policies of imperial powers to systematically undermine political regimes that pursue policies and goals that challenge their global hegemony. Over long periods of time imperial powers have used force, covert operations, supporting pliant local elites, and funneling money to disrupt local political processes. If targeted countries still reject outside interference the imperial power uses force to overthrow recalcitrant governments. In the 1980s all these tactics were used by the United States to crush revolutionary ferment in Central America. Of course, the US hybrid war strategy has been a staple of United States policy in the region ever since President Franklin Roosevelt declared the policy of “The Good Neighbor.”
Neoliberalism  refers to the variety of policies that rich capitalist countries and international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization have imposed on debt-ridden poor countries. These policies require poor countries to cut back on public services, deregulate their economies, reduce tariffs that protect their own industries and agriculture, and in other ways insist that poor countries open their economies to foreign investment and trade penetration. The impacts of neoliberalism have been to impose austerity on largely marginalized populations. Their agriculture and industries have been undermined by subsidized agribusinesses from the Global North and global investors. Since the initiation of neoliberal policies in the 1970s gaps between rich and poor nations and rich and poor people within nations have grown all across the world, with a few exceptions such as China.

In sum, people everywhere have experienced the creation of repressive regimes and economic policies that have shifted vast majorities from modest survival to deep poverty. (Susan Jonas once wrote that the Guatemalan people lived more secure lives before the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the fifteenth century than ever since). The globalization of the economy, increased violence and repression within countries (largely involving United States interference), increasing income and wealth inequality and poverty, and the rise of repressive regimes everywhere, has led to massive emigration. Some estimates indicate that 37 million people left their home countries (some 45 countries) between 2010 and 2015 for humanitarian reasons.
One of the ironies of world history is that capital in the form of investments, trade, the purchase of natural resources, the globalization of production, and military interventions have been common and necessary features of capitalism since its emergence in the sixteenth century. But, paradoxically, and except for the global slave trade and selected periods of history, the movement of people has been illegal. (Sometimes branding migrants as “illegal” has been a device to cheapen their labor). The idea of national sovereignty has been used to justify categorizing some human migrants as “illegal.” If capital is and has been legal, the movement of people should be legal as well. It makes no sense, nor is it humane, to brand any human beings as “illegal.”

The Concept of Open Borders
This sketchy analysis of the “root causes” of emigration suggest the need to oppose imperialism, both in the form of hybrid wars and promotion of neoliberal economic policies. This traditional task of peace and anti-imperialist campaigns is ongoing and needs to continue. And the analyses of the deleterious effects of hybrid wars and neoliberalism should be linked to movements fighting against  cruel and inhumane immigration policies in recipient countries, such as the United States. In addition, drawing on history, law, ethics, and a humane and socialist vision of the universality of humankind, progressives should expand on a conversation raised by some about the concept of “open borders.”

The idea of open borders has not been sufficiently discussed as the immigration crisis in the United States and Europe has unfolded. The core concept, with much room for discussion of implementation, suggests that, as a recently endorsed Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) calls for, there should be an “uninhibited transnational free movement of people….and a pathway to citizenship for all non-citizen residents.”  The idea of open borders implies that no human being by virtue of her/his presence in any geographic space can be defined as “illegal” and that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights apply to everyone, everywhere.

In a 2017 article Aisha Dodwell, Global Justice Now, wrote in defense of open borders (Aisha Dodwell, “7 Reasons Why We should Have Open Borders,”   New Internationalist, November 29, 2017, . Among her arguments are the following:
-Borders are tools to separate the rich and powerful from the poor.

-Borders do not stop efforts to emigrate but exacerbate violence against already victimized people.
-Immigrants are erroneously blamed for declining employment and jobs when, in fact, it is the demonization of immigrants that divides workers from each other.

-Open borders would allow for emigres to return home when the brutal repressive and economic conditions that led them to flee were reduced.
-Open borders would lead to greater employment, increased earnings, rising demand for goods and services, and through income repatriation, more money sent back to families in countries the emigres fled. In short, open borders would be a stimulus for economic growth in both the country of origin and the host country of emigres.

-Open borders would mean the equalization of the rights of people to emigrate; thus avoiding the current policies that allow for immigration of certain populations (such as skilled workers) and not others.
-Historically, open borders have always existed for corporations, banks, the super-rich, tourists and other select populations who are beneficiaries of the global capitalist system.

Earlier Roque Planes, Latino Voices, (“16 Reasons Why Opening Our Borders Makes More Sense Than Militarizing Them,” Huffpost, September 2, 2014, ) adds to the list of reasons justifying open borders. Planes quotes an immigration expert who has argued that, with glaring exceptions such as Asians, open borders existed until the 1920s. “‘Legally’ meant something very different then than it does now. At the time, the United States accepted practically everyone who showed up with few restrictions other than the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and a brief health examination. The foreign-born share of the population, 12.9 percent, is lower today than it was during the entire period from 1860 to 1920, according to data published by the Brookings institution.”
Planes posited arguments pertaining to open borders:

-Today capital and goods flow across borders but not always labor.
-Rich people have the privilege of open borders.

-the US immigration system is broken.
-Open borders within the European Union, while increasingly volatile politically, did not lead to the collapse of European economies.

-‘Illegal’ immigration is a direct resultant of US policies. Planes sites overthrowing governments, financing militaries in poor countries, promoting policies that destroy domestic agriculture in poor countries, and, he could have added, the war on drugs.
-Open borders increase the possibility of immigrants returning to their homelands.

-Immigrants, in the main, are not the cause of stagnant wages in the United States. Using anti-immigrant and racist policies divert attention from the primary causes of economic exploitation.
-The broken immigration system has provided huge profits for the prison/industrial complex and large budgets for law enforcement agencies.

As to the last point, Todd Miller, Empire of Borders: The Expansion if the U.S. Border Around the World,  Verso Books, 2019, argues that United States policy is “pushing out the border,” such that allies tighten their own borders to serve the needs of expanding imperial control. In addition, by pressuring other countries to tighten their own border security, the U.S. is expanding its border security apparatus, to include new special forces and expansion of State Department and other agency activities. A reviewer of Miller’s book, (Cora Currier, Pushing out the Border: How the U.S. is Waging a Global War on Migration,”  Portside, August 4, 2019, quotes Miller who writes that U.S. Customs and Border Protection “has trained new patrol and homeland security units for Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan borders.” 

The reviewer points out from Miller’s study that “…the U.S. Department of Homeland Security can be found assisting border projects in the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, India, Poland, Turkey, and Vietnam.” In addition the Border Patrol has offices in Mexico and Canada and a presence in Puerto Rico to oversee the Caribbean. Quoting Miller: “Hundreds of millions in U.S. funds have flowed to Central American borders to turn them into U.S.-style defensible zones.” And soldiers from around the world are flown to the U.S. southwest to gain experience in border control. Clearly, Miller is describing a growing military/corporate/immigration complex. The ideological glue justifying this massive enterprise are claims about national sovereignty and presumed racist threats that people fleeing repression and starvation represent.
What To Do?

Along with the panoply of proposals for immigration reform, campaigns to combat racism, and the movements to provide sanctuary to desperate migrant peoples, progressives need to look at the history/ theory/ and practice of anti-immigrant policies. A central conclusion that needs to be raised is to call and work for open borders as suggested by the DSA resolution on open borders. 

In sum central elements of a truly radical and humane response to the immigration crisis in the United States and the world should include:
-Increased efforts to challenge imperialism everywhere in both its political/military dimensions and its intrusive neoliberal economic policies

-Rejection of the idea that people can be deemed “illegal.”
-Mobilizing around the concept of opening borders to people fleeing repression and economic deprivation, similar to the U.S immigration policies of the early part of the twentieth century.

-Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a guide to law and practice all across the globe.
-Revitalizing programs of humanitarian assistance on a global basis including revisiting the possible value of instituting economic regulations of global capitalism that were once in the United Nations, referred to as “The   New International Economic Order.”

-Work to dismantle the military/corporate/immigration complex.
While these larger demands will be difficult to achieve, working for them and articulating a vision of the world where human beings are not deemed illegal will add clarity to the reasons behind more modest demands for reform.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


Harry Targ, dh must be confronted in devising pathways to greater security.

“Purdue is advancing a broad defense innovation capability, distinguished by its depth, breadth, and speed, with the goal of contributing to our nation’s third offset strategy of innovation by integration of existing strengths and forming new partnerships. The depth in quality and creativity of Purdue research centers is, and will remain, our strongest asset. The breadth responds to the need expressed by multiple DoD customers for a ‘total package’: new, integrated solutions (technologies, transition), new talent (graduates highly trained in relevant problems), and new modes of knowledge access (personnel exchange, training, distance education).

Purdue University researchers conducted over $40M of sponsored research in the 2014-2015 academic year and, in doing so, educated hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students in cutting edge technologies.”

“NDIA, in partnership with Purdue University, will host a comprehensive program on hypersonic systems. Together with government, industry, and academia, NDIA will present the technical foundations of hypersonic systems, the current approach to rapidly developing hypersonic capabilities, and the warfighter, policy, and acquisition perspectives on delivering a sustainable operational capability” "2019 Hypersonics Capabilities Conference," NDIA 100,

The National Defense Industry Association NDIA is an association of defense industry contractors who lobby for increased military expenditures. Its members are described as “informed opinion leaders” dedicated to improved national security.

Purdue’s Discovery Park launched in 2001 with a grant from the state of Indiana and expanded by a $25 million Lilly Endowment as a nanotechnology center. Today it is a $1.15 billion research and learning complex that combines Purdue’s expertise in science, engineering, technology, and biology, with connections to the corporate world. As its website suggests: “Leveraging Lilly Endowment’s investment, Discovery Park has created an innovative environment where major global challenges are examined objectively, generating new ideas and directions for future generations.”

One of Discovery Park’s core strengths is “Global Security.” Key research on this subject is designed to respond to security threats, global instability, defense needs, terrorism, nuclear deterrence and proliferation, basically responding to “the most pressing security and defense challenges facing the nation and the world.”
Chief Discovery Park scientist, Professor Tomas Diaz de la Rubia posted an essay entitled “The New Future of Warfare” (Purdue University Discovery Park Vice President’s Blog, (October 1, 2018). In it he addressed the emerging salience of new military technologies based on artificial intelligence (AI) and war. De la Rubia speculated that future wars will not be fought on battlefields but rather in cities or in cyberspace. New AI weapons of war in the hands of presumed enemies could constitute an existential threat to the survival of the United States. Discovery Park, he indicated, is already engaged in vital research on biomorphic robots, automatic target recognition for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, automatic targeting for drones, and other technologies. In short, a core Discovery Park mission includes the preparation for and implementation of war. And this is necessary because as Professor de la Rubia argued:

“It has become apparent that the U.S. is no longer guaranteed top dog status on the dance card that is the future of war. In order to maintain military superiority the focus must shift from traditional weapons of war to advanced systems that rely on A.I.-based weaponry. The stakes are just too high and the prize too great for the U.S. to be left behind. All the more reason to call upon Purdue University and its inestimable capacity to weave together academia, research, and industry for the greater good. We’re stepping up to secure our place in the future of our country, and there’s much more to come!” He warned that China had announced that it would overtake the US by 2030 in the global artificial intelligence market.

Recently, the NDIA and Purdue University hosted a conference on “hypersonics,” the development of high speed weapons systems, stimulated by a $2.4 billion allocation in the 2020 defense budget. According to a Purdue press release, the university has one of the most comprehensive hypersonic research capabilities. University President Mitch Daniels declared that the university was “…ready to establish itself as the ‘university hub’ of hypersonic research and development.” Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb declared that “Hypersonics systems are our state’s number one defense priority, and I’m glad we can bring industry leaders together at Purdue University to showcase what Indiana can offer.” (“NDIA, Purdue Launching Inaugural Hypersonics Capabilities Conference to Advance Transformational Military Capabilities,” Purdue Research Foundation News, July 29, 2019).  Some comments suggested also that this new military research agenda would lead to greater economic development in the Greater Lafayette area. One particularly bizarre spokesperson justified the Purdue commitment to high speed warfare by referring to the mission of the Morrill Act of 1862 establishing land-grant universities (Dave Bangert, “Purdue ‘Doubling Down” on Military Research on Hypersonic Flight, Weapons,”  Lafayette Journal and Courier, July 30, 2019).

These statements illustrate that Purdue University, a large land-grant university, increasingly is committing its skills to research, development, training, and the production of the instruments of war. Such commitments have been made with little discussion in the broader university community. 

Important theoretical questions are not being raised. For example, is war inevitable? Are other countries a threat to the United States? Should we conceptualize the world in the twenty-first century as one in which the United States and China are competitors and threats to each other? Should the United States commit itself to remaining the number one power in the world, however that is defined? Or should research prioritize human development and conflict resolution rather than “security? Is there a relationship between poverty, hunger, environmental devastation, the spread of weapons and war and violence? One wonders if more of government and corporate resources should be allocated to these many issues, rather than to ill-conceived, notions of national “security.” And, finally, do collaborative efforts between universities, such as Purdue, with defense contractors and the Department of Defense best serve the needs of national security, conflict reduction, research, or education? And, in the end, does not this collaboration between the military, the university, and industry constitute a huge robbery of the wealth of society at the expense of social and economic development, ecological survival, and the prospects of peace?

President Eisenhower in 1960 warned about an unwarranted growth of the influence of the military/industrial complex in American society. Today he would characterize the danger as the military/industrial/academic complex. It includes the shifting of the research and education missions of higher education away from human development to war-making. 

These qualitative changes in university priorities are being made largely in non-transparent decision-making ways. But when challenged, the military/industrial/academic complex tends to defend its existence by claiming war is inevitable. And to secure support, when questioned, self-identified experts construct narratives of enemies; whether they be the Communists, the terrorists, China, the Cubans, the Venezuelans, artificial intelligence, or all of the above. As Andrew Bacevich so compellingly has argued, ever since the end of World War Two, the United States has created a “permanent war economy.” Given the increasing financial challenges universities face in the twenty-first century, collaboration with this permanent war economy becomes attractive to university administrators.

For more on the concept of the military/industrial complex see:

For a discussion about competing paradigms in the study of international relations see: