By: Gabriel Matthew Schivone
Issue date: 3/4/09
Forty years ago today, classes were suspended at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology surrounding disastrous circumstances which
over a decade earlier Albert Einstein had warned as "stark, dreadful,
and inescapable." The paroxysm that called the day off for students
and scientists alike was not a snowstorm or natural disaster of
sorts; it was a catastrophe that was utterly human in all its cruel
dimensions and unnatural constructions.
On March 4, 1969, in efforts mainly organized and spearheaded by
students, scientists at MIT and elsewhere throughout the country
halted their research activities in a "practical and symbolic"
expression of protest of U.S. government violence in Southeast Asia.
At the time, America's war on Vietnam raged a terrible, though not
yet exhaustive, campaign of atrocity and mass destruction that would
eventually inflict more tons of firepower upon the area of Cambodia
alone than all the bombing theaters by all sides during WWII. The
line of technology and technical planning for the war was directly
tied to America's finest minds of science and innovation, much of
which came out of MIT.
At the insistence of the students, MIT Emeritus Professor Noam
Chomsky was, in his own words, "quite centrally involved" in the
negotiations with the administration while the planning of activities
was going on. "(March 4) was the first time that these issues - uses
of technology and the goals of science - had been discussed outside
small groups at MIT," Professor Chomsky told me last week in a phone
interview from his office at Cambridge.
A statement of purpose, known as the "March 4 Manifesto," originally
written by students, and begins with the premise that through
America's actions in Vietnam, the "misuse of scientific and technical
knowledge presents a major threat to the existence of mankind."
There is a profound sense of urgency in the language and proposals of
March 4 so striking as to appear as though they had been written
earlier today. One of the central themes was bent on "turning
research applications away from the present emphasis on military
technology toward the solution of pressing social and environmental problems."
Observing the state of the world today, eminent scientists,
intellectuals, military specialists - and just common sense knowledge
of our own behavior in the world - all remind us that we are by far
the most violent and militaristic society on the face of the earth,
and that serious alternatives are needed if we want to avert disaster.
Our way of life (a euphemism for "way of war and business") is a
leading example after which many of the world's most terrifying
elements are modeled, often with our training (called a "strategic
partnership"), our provisions (euphemized as "direct aid"), and our
direction (i.e. "U.S. blessing").
Quite apart from the fact that our military expenditures outweigh all
the militaries of the world combined, the way we've arranged as open
for business what George H.W. Bush called the "new world order"
demonstrates the unparalleled levels of organized crime which we
command and profit from on a world scale.
The New America Foundation reports that "U.S. arms and military
training played a role in 20 of the world's 27 major wars in 2007,"
raking in $23 billion in receipts. Investments in violence and terror
proved even more profitable in 2008 with $32 billion. The "best guys"
for the job include Pakistan ($3.7 billion), Turkey ($3.0 billion)
and Colombia ($575 million) - all of whose depraved human rights
records are consistently deplored by groups like Amnesty
International along with denouncing our crucial support base for them.
Like a smart but ruthless bully, America rules the neighborhood of
the world. And the array of brute thugs, such as the above, who are
in our service follow orders, whether by extending our power in their
assigned regions, or paying tributes for our protection, as in the
case of Saudi Arabia.
The racket is well-packaged. The mafia boss - in our case the leading
minds of science, the business and policy planners - organizes the
world web of crime while continually staking supreme legitimacy
through fear, and by force when necessary.
This kind of racket is wonderful business and a virtual golden age
for the small group of people who own and run the U.S., but for the
rest of the world, and for the American people by and large, starkly
dreadful prospects and enraged fears are not exaggerated as they
demand world safety and security away from that of "a few big
interests looking out for themselves" (to quote a standard Times/CBS
public poll) who continue to increasingly and vitally threaten to
bring about what Einstein and others in the years following WWII
gravely warned as an imminent extinction of the species.
March 4 critically demonstrated that these destructive prospects are
tendencies only. As the privileged segments of the United States,
particularly as students at the threshold of professional development
and social and cultural management of the nation, these alarming
prospects are dependent on our will and choice whether we will, again
to paraphrase Einstein, embrace our own destruction, or renounce war
Gabriel Matthew Schivone is a junior majoring in art, literature, and
media studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.