Public Education and the Military-Industrial Complex

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered this line as part of his farewell speech at the end of his Presidency.  Many have touted this speech as proof of great insight on the part of Eisenhower.  There is a lot of value in the speech, but it has at its heart the supremely flawed ideology of American exceptionalism.  Unfortunately, the parts of this speech that took hold were those concepts of American exceptionalism; the warnings against the military-industrial complex (MIC) have been and continue to be ignored by the mainstream political minds of the U.S.

I live in Tucson, Arizona.  There are two employers here that offer what we consider to be “good jobs”:  Raytheon and the University of Arizona.  Both are tightly wound into the web of the MIC.  Raytheon’s involvement is, of course, obvious.  They are directly involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  Employment there can mean nothing but the living off of blood money.  That is their raison d’etre.

As for the University, there is considerable research done at the institution that has military application, whether it is directly funded by the Department of Defense or simply results in technologies that are transferred to defense contractors.  Whereas it was once the case that all patents held by public institutions were essentially non-exclusive–that is, they could be used by anyone in the U.S.–changes in patent law have allowed private companies to gain exclusive control of publicly-funded inventions.  The patented technologies can then be used by these private entities for whatever commercial purposes they please, and others are blocked from using these technologies.  Defense contractors, pharmaceutical companies, and biotechnology firms have made considerable use of this boon.  Even when publicly funded research doesn’t directly lead to a usable invention, it often leads to discoveries that are then used to produce commercial products.

“Although the business sector plays a major role for research and development on activities with a commercial objective, many of the fundamental technologies having great implications for everyday life came from publicly funded research that was not intended for immediate commercial use.”

This is but one way that the public coffers have been used for private gain.  What guarantees do we have when a university passes transfers technology to a private firm that they have gotten a good return on the public investment?  None.  None whatsoever. We fight over welfare for poor families, but willingly hand over patented ideas to the private sector for private gain.

Of course, as bad as the corporate welfare is, it’s not even the worst of it.  As evidenced in this press release, the University of Arizona also conducts research funded by Department of Defense grants.  In this case, the University and the DOD wrap the discussion with touchy-feeling environmental terms like “land stewardship”.  Further down in the discussion, we finally focus on the real issue being studied:  how DOD installations can continue to function in climates as they change.  So, the issue here is not how to stop the damage; the issue is how to continue war-making as we continue the damage.

Our universities are using public money to create the ideas and technologies that will later be used for military ventures.  My dedication to working in public education means that I have been roped into providing services for the most heinous of research:  that which leads to death and destruction.  Its time that our universities got out of the death business.

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