Integration of U.S. Universities into the War Machine Being Exposed

The wave of campus protests against U.S. support for Israel’s deadly assault on the population of Gaza began inauspiciously with the takeover of the Brown University (Rhode Island) administration building on Nov. 8, 2023. Among the demands of the students was for a printout of the university’s financial relationship with the Israeli government and military establishment, and of investments of university funds in firms connected to the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex (MIC).

As the death toll in Gaza climbed, the ferment grew. But it wasn’t until April 17, six months into the invasion of Gaza by Israel, that the campuses exploded, with protesters setting up encampments on more than 140 of them. In addition to demanding a ceasefire, an end to the occupation by Israel of Palestine and an end to U.S. support for the attacks, the call for divestment from the war machine became a central demand of many of the protests.

April 17 was the day an encampment went up on the Columbia University campus, and many other campuses did the same. The students were soon supported by professors dismayed and angered over the U.S. policy. This heightened when the House of Representatives passed the $95 billion supplemental military aid package by an overwhelming majority, with $25 billion slated for Israel.

The growing demonstrations produced two hostile reactions: slandering protesters as “pro-Hamas” and “anti-Semitic”, and a decision to call on law enforcement to close the encampments. By April 30, police cleared student demonstrators from Hamilton Hall at Columbia University, and a pro-Israel mob of thugs attacked the encampment at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), while police stood by for three hours, doing nothing to protect demonstrators. The shift in tactics by administrators to the use of police force and threats of expulsion occurred as sympathy for the demonstrators and the cause of justice for helpless, hungry Palestinians grew.

But the other factor that precipitated the crackdown is that the call for divestiture from companies involved in the war against Gaza was taking hold. Universities with huge endowment funds refused to say where those funds were invested, out of fear of exposure that they have been incorporated into the war machine. An important aspect of that are the college-funded programs with “tech” firms, such as Google, Amazon, Cisco, that have joined traditional military contractors such as Boeing in the “military-industrial complex”.

The President of Columbia University, for example, who called in the police, is a walking interface with the British imperial war machine. A Baroness with a seat in the House of Lords, Manouche Shafik was formerly vice president of the World Bank, Deputy Managing Director of the IMF and Director of the London School of Economics, a key institution in the imperial tradition of the City of London. The Board of Trustees includes Jeh Johnson, who served the Obama administration as counsel to the Defense Department and then Secretary of Homeland Security, while also being on the Board of Directors of military contractor Lockheed Martin.

Students at other campuses are pushing for transparency and divestiture. By focusing attention on the interface between “higher education” and the military-security establishment, academic institutions are being exposed as complicit in war crimes.

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