Getting defensive at NU

By Joe Goldberg

War is ugly business. It’s also big business. If I mentioned how much money our government spends on weaponry, many readers would feel quite nauseous. Sure, there are just wars to be fought, and a strong defense is important to preserve our democracy, but defense spending should be based on defense needs; not profiteering.

Unfortunately Northeastern University is one of a few parties that make a lot of money on war machines. Our Center for Electromagnetic Research boasts, “As we address new needs, our research agenda remains strongly committed to the needs of our traditional defense-oriented sponsors, as evidenced by their continuing support.” Those needs would appear to be the development of new weapons technologies, regardless of their necessity on the battlefield.

To understand the behavior of the defense industry, let’s take, for example, the development of the Crusader artillery program. Here’s a system that the Pentagon says it doesn’t need, but Congress continues to fund to the tune of $11 billion. “The problem with the Crusader is not that it is useless on the modern battlefield, but that it is not particularly needed,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. The Pentagon is now favoring lighter, more nimble weapon systems, he says.

So why is this money being thrown away? Well, it’s quite simple: the defense contractors want tax payer money, and they give huge contributions to congressional campaigns. It’s politics plain and simple. But more important than our school’s relationship with companies ripping off America, is the moral question created by developing killing machines.

Remember those so called “smart bombs,” that killed hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan? Systems in those bombs may well have been developed right here at NU. This is not something our school should be proud of. So what should concerned students do about this?

First we should recognize that NU should be an institute of higher learning, and not a subcontractor for weapons manufacturers. Secondly, we should boycott co-ops at Raytheon, Lockeed, and other defense contractors, in order to send a message to the school. Raytheon is currently number 16 in the top co-op employers here; we have the power to change that.

Next, we must call for more whistle-blowers within our research institutions. Researchers must come forward and point out flawed and/or wasteful research programs. Without giving up classified secrets, professors should contact the administration and say, “look, we’re getting all this money, but this project will never really work. Lets scrap it, even if it costs us money.”

Finally, students and faculty, especially those involved with physical sciences, should ask themselves and their colleagues: “What is my research being used for? Do I really want to participate in the development of weapons? Are there more humanitarian uses for my skills? What type of research will make me feel good at the end of the day?”

In truth, NU is unlikely to break relationships with defense contractors anytime soon. They give us lots of money, and many other universities would jump at the opportunity to replace our research. As students, though, we have the power to raise awareness on this issue. We should keep the conversation alive and act as the watchdogs, keeping an eye on our defense research institutes. If as concerned students we continue to make our voice heard, perhaps one day we can lead our school out of the war business.

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