Besides writing the book, Busy Dying,
Hilton Obenzinger is a long-time Palestine solidarity activist who now teaches writing at Stanford University. Following is the text of a recent email interview with Busy Dying author Obenzinger. (See below for parts 1 to 4).
In 1968 anti-war students at Columbia University protested against Columbia's complicity with the U.S. war machine. In recent years the Pentagon has funded millions of dollars of research work at many U.S. universities. At Stanford University, for example, $37 million worth of research work was being funded by the Department of Defense in 2000. Do you think it's now appropriate for U.S. universities like Columbia and Stanford to continue to accept research contracts from the Pentagon while the Pentagon is using drones and robot weapons--that were often initially developed with Pentagon funding in the labs of U.S. university campuses--to continue to wage endless war in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq?
Hilton Obenzinger: At Stanford, students in 1969 demanded an end to secret military research. They won that demand and that still stands.
However, military research that is not secret is tremendously active. Not just military research, many economic and political science scholars, in particular, purposely keep their visions narrow, and the departments exclude scholars with alternate world views, otherwise the smart guys could have known the economic disaster was coming, and they didn’t. The Hoover Institution looms over Stanford, even though it’s supposed to be an autonomous organization and not part of the university.
As soon as the military rescinds the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule, ROTC will return to campuses, since what prevents their role on campuses is the discriminatory position of the military and not opposition to militarism. And most students I teach are just fine with the military; even if they are opposed to the current wars, they support the military as an institution, and there’s little anti-imperialist analysis of the US.
The country seems headed into disaster with endless wars but not an endless flow of money. Elite universities are part of the ruling apparatus, even if the students and faculty are not following that agenda. When there is an even deeper crisis and a real challenge to the priorities of the country as a whole, then students will also move. When there really is a mass movement challenging the assumptions of militarism, then students will target universities.
But I don’t see that movement in the near future. There was an awakening because of the Obama campaign, but I’m not sure that has gelled into anything on-going – it’s too soon to tell. There is hope of mobilization, but it’s—rightfully--coming from the terrible condition of education, such as the dismantling of the UC and CSU systems in California. We’ll see how this all develops when connections to the military budget and the prison-industrial complex are brought into the students’ protest programs.
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