I grew up in an environment that was fiercely critical of American militarism. My parents, both immigrants, were largely untouched by military jingoism birthed during the genocide of Indigenous peoples in North America, refined throughout the anti-communist McCarthy era, and made an integral part of the American identity with the 20th-century wars of suppression that stamped everywhere from Buena Vista to Incheon to Safwan with the bloody boot of U.S. imperialism. Although my childhood was not devoid of problematic political biases of its own — none are — I am grateful to have been brought up in an environment that did not dehumanize and vilify the people of Afghanistan and Iraq during the mass slaughter that took place in the perversely-led “War on Terror” led by the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
At the same time, I often listened in with fear and confusion as my classmates spewed vitriol against South and Southwest Asians and North Africans — anyone with an orientalist “Middle Eastern” effect. These extremely heterogeneous groups, who had near-nonexistent representation in my hometown of Granby, Conn. with the exception of yours truly, were lumped together as disposable. They were obligated to answer on behalf of the orchestrators of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and the CIA’s convenient boogeyman of the week, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Of course, neither my grade school peers nor the majority of Americans understood these dimensions at the time, nor did they know how their prejudices were being exercised in real-time by the U.S. military through the unimaginably gruesome torture of non-combatants at Abu Ghraib prison or the continued detention — often without trial and involving torturous prosecution methods — of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The willful ignorance of the American public and media outlets made it acceptable to lionize the American armed forces without hesitation.
With these atrocities and countless others not far behind us in the rearview mirror of history, now immediately accessible to all through the internet, I find it beyond disgusting that UConn regularly allows grotesque displays of militaristic propaganda intending to recruit students into the U.S. Military, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and private military contractors. Not only do military and military-adjacent recruitment options uncritically endorse an organization that has conducted 469 foreign interventions in its two centuries of existence, with over one-half taking place after 1991, according to the Congressional Research Institution, but they deepen the dependency of academia on the military-industrial complex as well.
On Tuesday, Sept. 12, uniformed recruiters for the Army National Guard occupied Fairfield Way. The armored vehicles and inflatable carnival games advertising “100% free tuition for CT state graduates” were an unmistakable sight as students made their way to classes. Here on our familiar route was the same institution that was weaponized to suppress anti-segregation protests, kill four student anti-war protesters at the infamous Kent State massacre, round up racial justice protesters responding to the police killing of George Floyd and, most recently, quash demonstrations against the construction of Cop City in Atlanta. Although most people are simply unaware of the blood-stained legacy of the Army National Guard being used for suppressing progressive social movements resisting the immoveable weight of capitalism and white supremacy, the UConn administration just doesn’t appear to care; after all, the administration has its own history of calling in big guns to disrupt student anti-war and anti-racism protests in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Beyond institutional apathy of war crimes and the like, UConn’s relationship to the military is actually integral to the continued functioning of departments like the School of Engineering, where no less than a quarter of its more than 20 research centers are directly affiliated with defense contractors or branches of the military, and one-third, or nearly $25 million, of its research funding was awarded by the Department of Defense, according to the SoE’s annual report for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
The report further elucidates the pipeline between the SoE and the ironically-named “defense” industry: “Local industrial partners, such as Raytheon Technologies Research Center (RTRC), need a steady stream of Ph.D. students qualified to work on export-controlled research and other Department of Defense projects.”
The report adds, “The goal is to recruit and educate Ph.D. students with expertise tailored for RTRC, Pratt & Whitney, Collins Aerospace, and General Dynamics Electric Boat that leverages UConn SoE’s existing pool of students and attracts additional talent from schools around the country.” I belabor these problematic connections further in last week’s column. In short, UConn has a vested fiscal interest in aligning with the military-industrial complex; however, the consequences of this continued relationship are dire.
Currently, the U.S. military is one of the world’s worst air polluters, and the only climate action plan offered by the Pentagon thus far highlights the meager goal of carbon neutrality by 2046 — rubbing right up against the 2050 deadline for achieving net-zero emissions globally. As we face irreversible climate change, diverting resources towards a military buildup in Asia and weapons sales to countries with human rights concerns like Egypt and Israel, instead of prioritizing the development of environmental and socially-necessary technologies, is glaringly counterproductive. By continuing to preserve the university’s deep relationship with the military apparatus, UConn is willingly accelerating our descent into the climate crisis, as well as perpetuating the “poverty draft,” whereby low-income people may have no other choice but to join the military to escape economic destitution or afford an education. For the sake of our community and our planet, UConn must do its part to disrupt the U.S. Military’s vampiric extraction of wealth and human life from our society. In order to do this, we should start at home by prohibiting military recruitment at this university and, for students’ part, no longer tolerating the deceptive enticement of our community members into the war machine.