Sunday, January 27, 2013

Columbia SDS Memories Revisited: Discovering IDA, 1967--Part 1

In early March 1967, by accident, I discovered Columbia’s institutional affiliation with the Institute for Defense Analyses [IDA]. It happened on a cold Saturday afternoon.

I had gone into the stacks of Butler Library to do some research for my term paper on “The Military-Industrial Complex’s Role In Determining U.S. Foreign Policy” which I had decided to write for Professor Schilling’s “American Foreign Policy II” course. I started to browse around the 350 to 355 Dewey Decimal section, thumbing through books related to the U.S. military-industrial complex, in order to get some information for my term paper.

Picking up a book on military research, titled Schools for Strategy, I slowly turned the pages until I reached the index. Just to see if, by chance, Columbia University was mentioned in relationship to Pentagon war-related research.

Sure enough, Columbia University was listed in the index. And when I started reading the indicated pages, I first felt some anger. Then I started to laugh out loud as I stood reading there alone in the stacks. “IDA stands for `Institute for Defense Analyses.’ The Institute for Defense Analyses is a think-tank like the Rand Institute, which develops weapons for the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff under the sponsorship of U.S. universities. Columbia University, without telling either its faculty, its student body, or its student newspaper, Spectator, has been institutionally sponsoring secret weapons development research for Pentagon generals since 1960. The liberal Columbia Administration, despite its talk of `value-freedom’ and political neutrality, was actually in bed with the same Pentagon that waged unjust war in Viet Nam.” These were my immediate thoughts as I read through a few pages of the book.

Ten minutes after I discovered that Columbia University was tied to a Pentagon think-tank—IDA—that I had never heard of before, I was on my way to the Butler Library stacks exit to check out the book which described Columbia’s ties to the IDA.

I immediately felt that if the Columbia Administration didn’t resign its institutional membership in IDA, the Columbia and Barnard student left might be able to create a Berkeley 1964 revolt-type situation at Columbia—as a way of effectively protesting both the insanity and immorality of U.S. military intervention in Viet Nam and the political powerlessness and lack of generational freedom felt by students in the 1960s.

After leaving the stacks, I spent the rest of the afternoon taking notes about Columbia’s IDA connection in the main reading room at Butler Library and looking for references to IDA in the Butler Library card catalogue. The catalogue cards which referred to IDA indicated that the annual reports of the IDA for the 1956 to 1966 years were contained in the “JX” section of Columbia’s International Law Library. After copying down the appropriate call numbers, I headed out of Butler Library and back to my Furnald Hall dorm room.

The morning after I discovered Columbia’s IDA connection was a Sunday, so I was not able to check out the International Law Library’s material on IDA. I did telephone Josh, though. Linda answered the phone in a drowsy voice which didn’t sound too enthusiastic.


“Hi. This is Bob Feldman. May I speak to Josh?”

“Oh. Just a minute.”

Josh then said “Hello” in a friendlier voice.

“Hello, Josh?...This is Bob Feldman. I was doing some research in the library and I think I discovered something important for SDS to look into. Columbia University is an institutional member of something called the Institute for Defense Analyses, which is a weapons research think-tank like the Rand Institute, that develops weapons for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Josh laughed. “Well, that’s not too surprising. It’s an interesting discovery. But what would be our political demand?”

“Our demand should be that the Columbia University Administration resign its institutional membership in the Institute for Defense Analyses,” I answered.

“That sounds like a clear-cut demand,” Josh replied. “Let me know if you find anything more about this. Bye now.” Then he hung up.

The following day I cut all my classes and spent most of the day and the two subsequent days reading the IDA annual reports which were contained in the International Law Library, but which could not be taken out of the library. The annual reports bragged about how crucial IDA was to carrying out the Pentagon’s Cold War military mission. They also bragged about how crucial a contribution university members like Columbia made to the U.S. war machine by being involved with IDA, using language like the following:

“If the Institute for Defense Analyses has produced important studies on problems in national security, much of the credit must go to the university world. Five universities gave IDA its start in 1956, and since then seven more have become Members, broadening our contact with the academic community and strengthening the direction of our corporate affairs. From these and other universities have come many of our scientists and officers, as permanent members or on leaves of absence....

"Without the efforts of these men and the cooperation of these institutions, IDA would not be what it is. We are proud to be able to grace the pages of our report with scenes of the campuses of our twelve Member Universities, as partial recognition of our debt to the entire university world."

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