Columbia Spectator

Published: September 18, 2007

Columbia Has a Responsibility to Divest

We are coming off the peak of yet another propaganda push by the Bush administration, attempting to spin the war in Iraq as a success, but not many are buying it. The war has killed over 3,000 U.S. soldiers and, according to a study published in 2006 in the British medical journal, The Lancet, over 655,000 Iraqis. According to the U.N., more than 2 million Iraqis have fled the country due to the violence, and 1.7 million more have been internally displaced. Every major poll shows that both Americans and Iraqis want the war to end—in August, BBC found that 79 percent of Iraqis oppose the “presence of Coalition forces,” and 81 percent think that the U.S. troop “surge” has had no effect or made security worse.

Columbia, as a global university, has a responsibility to take a proactive stance against this brutal war. Instead, by investing in corporations crucial to the war effort, our University has aligned its financial future with America’s protracted occupation of Iraq. As of 2006, Columbia had over $4 million invested in three military contractors: General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. Given an endowment measured in the billions and war expenses measured in the trillions, it may seem like Columbia owns only a small piece of the tremendous crime that is the war in Iraq. But a small piece of a huge crime is still a serious problem. Columbia is helping fund corporations that not only profit from the war and provide the means to prosecute it, but also have close political ties to it.

Raytheon produces electronics, bombs, and the Tomahawk, Maverick, and Javelin missiles and recently unveiled a nonlethal, pain-inflicting “crowd control heat beam.” General Dynamics manufactures ground equipment from bullets to the Stryker armored vehicle, while Lockheed produces warplanes, missiles, and bombs and supplies contract “interrogators” to military prisons in Iraq.

Each of the three companies spent more than $7 million in contributions and lobbying in 2002 in the lead-up to the war. General Dynamics gave more in contributions than it has in any other year to date, and both Lockheed and Raytheon reached their second-highest figures ever.

It’s easy to guess why. Lockheed, which is the Pentagon’s biggest supplier and the world’s biggest defense contractor, has seen profits expand since 2003. Raytheon acknowledged in a 2006 regulatory filing that “the overall level of U.S. defense spending has increased in recent years for numerous reasons, including increases in funding of operations in Iraq … we can give no assurance that such spending will continue … changes in defense spending could have long-term consequences for our size and structure.” But neither has done as well as General Dynamics, the Washington Post reports: “Of the large defense contractors, General Dynamics’ concentration in Army programs has given it the most direct benefit from the Iraq war.”

Many of the architects of the war have moved directly from leading positions as Bush administration policymakers to jobs at these same arms manufacturers, reaping enormous financial gains from our country’s military misadventure. Bruce Jackson served as executive director of the Project for the New American Century through 1998, vice president for strategy and planning at Lockheed from 1999 to 2002, and thereafter as the chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Current Bush administration Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England is a former General Dynamics vice president. Longtime Bush administration Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is a former member of Raytheon’s board of directors. In all, according to the World Policy Institute, by 2004 the Bush administration had appointed 32 “executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of weapons contractors to top policy-making positions.” Meanwhile, according to the Project on Government Oversight, as of 2004, 57 Lockheed executives, board members, or lobbyists were former “senior government officials”. The equivalent number for Raytheon was 23 and for General Dynamics 19.

Columbia does not need to be a part of this ugly tangle of people and institutions with lucrative interests in war. Columbia claims to be a “socially responsible” investor, and just recently divested from a list of companies which the University believed to be effectively supporting the government of Sudan in its crimes against humanity in Darfur—corporations tied to that violence much less directly than U.S.-based military contractors are to the violence in Iraq. Columbia’s widely publicized divestment from South Africa’s apartheid regime in 1985, after hundreds of students took over Hamilton Hall, was a significant boost to the anti-apartheid campaign.

But Columbia, right now, is complicit with the ongoing violence in Iraq. The University has not taken a neutral stance—it has tied itself financially to the continuation of the war. This is something we—Columbia’s students, alumni, faculty, and staff—should not tolerate. We must call for Columbia to divest entirely from corporations whose profits depend on the war in Iraq and which supply it with munitions or personnel.

Original Source: Columbia Spectator

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Published: February 15, 2007

Why You Should Strike

Dear Spectator Readers,

As you decide whether or not to participate in the anti-war strike on Thursday, the Columbia Coalition Against the War would like to address any lingering concerns you may have:

1. I don’t understand why this is called a “strike.”
A strike is a concerted abstention from a particular economic, physical, or social activity on the part of persons who are attempting to obtain a concession from an authority or to register a protest. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “to strike” also means “to proceed in a new direction.” We, the coalition, have called for a strike in solidarity with campuses across the nation in order to show the Bush administration and Congress that we are determined to end the war in Iraq now and to take our world in a new direction-a direction away from senseless aggression.

2. Won’t bringing the troops home now increase the violence in Iraq?
Actually, every major poll shows that both Americans and Iraqis want troops out now. An overwhelming majority believes that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing, according to a September 2006 poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes. Moreover, seven in 10 Iraqis want U.S.-led forces to commit to withdraw.

My friend and colleague, 27-year-old Ayub Nuri, is a Kurd from Iraq who initially supported the invasion, but he is deeply against its continuation. Nuri spent three years reporting on the cataclysmic American involvement in his country before attending Columbia’s School of Journalism. As Nuri said, “This is the worst my country has ever been in its entire history, far worse than under Saddam Hussein. The Americans do not care about us but only themselves. Even if you sent three billion soldiers to Iraq, it would not solve the problem. Soldiers do not solve the problems. Violence brings more violence. Believe me, there is no life in Iraq. There is no way for me to describe what is going on in Iraq.” We have destroyed Nuri’s home and should at least have the decency to give his people the right to determine their own future. Moreover, a January 2007 Gallup poll found that most Americans support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

There are people genuinely concerned with the fate of the Iraqi people who argue that ending the war now-the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq-might only make matters worse. We strongly disagree with this sentiment. The U.S. military occupation has not only created a horrific catastrophe for the Iraqi people but also remains the major destabilizing force in the country. Over 655,000 Iraqis are dead as a result of this war, according to the British medical journal The Lancet. The tone of the American occupation of Iraq was set by Paul Bremer’s first major act on the job: “he fired 500,000 state workers, most of them soldiers, but also doctors, nurses, teachers, publishers, and printers,” as reported in Harper’s Magazine. According to Refugees International, Iraq now has the worst refugee crisis in the entire world. The U.S. military has committed war crimes, from the torture at Abu Ghraib to the massacres in the Iraqi cities Fallujah and Haditha. The idea that the main party responsible for the disaster in Iraq should now be empowered to “fix” it is simply a recipe for greater U.S. aggression and bloodshed.

The U.S. occupation, in its desperate mission to prop up a regime friendly to so-called “American security interests,” fuels rather than alleviates the sectarian violence now raging in Iraq. As the honest and un-embedded journalism of Patrick Cockburn, Dahr Jamail, Nir Rosen, and others has shown, the U.S. has consciously manipulated the religious loyalties of Iraqis to control the country and head off a nationalist resistance. Any outside assistance given to Iraq after the U.S. leaves-and the demand for genuine reparations from the West is a very just one-must be under full Iraqi, not American, control. The anti-war movement’s demand to bring the troops home now is the precondition for the Iraqi people being able to determine their own future.

3. I don’t want my professors to judge me by my political views.
An overwhelming number of professors have contacted us to offer their support and encouragement. These professors are not on the margins, but they are representative of a large number of academics who oppose the war for reasons based on critical thinking and diverse scholarship. More importantly, Columbia students must have courage in their convictions by turning their rhetoric into action regardless of how they’re perceived by those in favor of escalating the war in Iraq. Having spent the last two weeks e-mailing every single professor at the University, the coalition is happy to report that we received only two negative responses. In other words, the vast majority of Columbia professors we have heard from are sympathetic toward the student strike.

4. I support the strike, but I’m against divestment.
We strongly encourage you to participate in the strike regardless of your view on divestment since the strike is first and foremost about ending the war. We also hope the teach-in will create a space conducive to discussing different points of view on topics including divestment. The coalition believes Columbia should divest from war-profiteering corporations for the duration of the war as a material act of opposition to the war’s continuation. As of June 30, 2006, Columbia had a total of over $4 million invested in three military contractors-$1,446,666 in General Dynamics, $1,571,106 in Lockheed Martin, and $1,154,363 in Raytheon. These companies are complicit in the war in more ways than one. Lockheed Martin’s former vice president chaired the pro-war Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Bush’s secretary of the navy, a man with no previous military experience, is a former General Dynamics executive. Raytheon has two directors who are members of the Council on Foreign Relations. The company paid $11 million in fines for bribery and price inflation during the ’90s, but nevertheless, after spending $961,252 on the 2004 election cycle, it obtained $9.1 billion in military contracts in 2005. The comparable contracts for General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin are $1,437,602 and $10.6 billion, and $2,212,836 and $19.4 billion, respectively. Not only do these companies produce the weapons-from Abrams tanks to F-16s to Tomahawk cruise missiles-used in the Iraq war, but they also corrupt the U.S. government in order to get the contracts to do so. Columbia should not have a financial stake in their success.

5. What difference can one day of protest make?
One day of protest alone will not stop the war, but our action will help forge a larger, more united student anti-war movement that can contribute to stopping the senseless bloodshed in Iraq. Every serious historian of the Vietnam War acknowledges the critical role that the anti-war movement-including the mass protest and civil disobedience of students-had in ending that horrible war. As Noam Chomsky said in his lecture earlier this month, student protests were critical in challenging the American campaign in Cambodia during the 1970s. Also, let us not forget that Columbia was responsible for significantly bolstering the anti-apartheid South Africa divestment campaign in 1985 when hundreds of students took over Hamilton Hall until the administration addressed their concerns. “The work of those students had a real impact on ending apartheid,” said professor Dennis Dalton. “The Columbia administration claimed divestment would make matters worse and even went so far as saying it would be rejected by Desmond Tutu, but then we got an actual letter from Tutu supporting the peace activists!” Large, informed, and united protests full of passion and conviction have historically inspired dormant activists to join social movements and directly engage in critical forms of resistance.

Disruption impedes momentum. If we take a clear stance against the Iraq war today, we’ll prevent new wars tomorrow. As students, we must create a strong and vibrant anti-war movement that extends beyond this strike. We are at a moment in history that requires collective action. The coalition sees the strike as the launching point for building a sustained grassroots mobilization against the war on campus and beyond. On Jan. 14, while discussing the recent “Troop Surge” in Iraq on 60 Minutes, Bush declared with an arrogance fit for a classical dictator, “Yeah, ..[Congress] could try to stop me, but I’ve made my decision and we’re going forward.” This student strike is coming at a time when our voices will resonate and help set trends in academia and society. At this historic juncture, we’re being given an opportunity to show that we, the people, are the true “deciders.” What will you decide to do today?

Original Source: Columbia Spectator

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Published: February 9, 2007

Support the Anti-War Strike

As a college freshman, I marched alongside millions of Americans on Feb. 15, 2003 in protest against the impending U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. I still remember the neon orange poster on which I had stenciled “Stop the War on Iraq” in black ink. Never did I imagine that, halfway through my dual-degree graduate program, almost four years after the largest coordinated antiwar demonstration in human history, I would still be stenciling the same slogan on neon orange posters.

In many ways, the war turned out even worse than many predicted. The war is criminal in its violation of the Geneva Conventions and has resulted in a catastrophic loss of life-3,300 coalition troops and over 655,000 of our Iraqi brothers and sisters. The war has also served as a cheap pretense for a broad assault on our civil liberties, including the violation of habeas corpus, condoning of torture, and rampant racism against Arabs and Muslims. Most disturbingly, the war has given into self-defeating pathologies of hatred and, according to a declaration from 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, has made the world less safe and less free.

As I ponder the Iraq war, I search for ways to speak for the Iraqis whose country is being laid waste, whose families are being mutilated, whose culture is being sabotaged. As I search for ways to speak for those who too often go unheard in the media while this senseless war rages on, I remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in a Vietnam antiwar address he delivered at Riverside Church on Apr. 4, 1967: “We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

Next week, many of us who are sick of the suffering inflicted in our names plan to “speak” by participating in a nationwide strike. As an organizing member of the Columbia Coalition Against the War, I invite the entire Columbia community, including students, faculty, staff, and the administration, to join us in publicly and actively opposing the unjust war in Iraq.

We, the coalition, call upon the people of this country-especially our generation-to shoulder the responsibility of bringing an immediate end to this war. We strongly encourage the students of Columbia to walk out of classes in opposition to this war. We call on the faculty and administration to set aside business as usual, join our strike, and sign our petition, available at www.gopetition.com/online/11069.html.

Columbia, as a global University, has a responsibility to take a proactive stance against this illegal war. By investing in corporations crucial to the war effort, our University has aligned its financial future with America’s protracted occupation of Iraq.

We therefore call on the administration to divest from these corporations for the duration of the war to hasten the war’s end.

We unite on the upcoming anniversary to “rekindle the flame of protest that flared up all over the world on that date four years ago,” historian Howard Zinn noted in his support for a nationwide strike. Our protest and teach-in on Feb. 15 is only the beginning. We aim for this to be the rebirth of a strong and diverse antiwar movement on Columbia’s campus and on campuses around the world.

We will work to build support in our schools and our communities for resistance to the war. We will give voice to the majority of Americans who have expressed their strong opposition to the war. We will show the leaders in Congress that we, the people, are the true “deciders.”

If you are still uncertain about helping end the war, consider the eerily accurate words of Martin Luther King Jr. in his speech against the Vietnam War: “Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on … move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.”

Copyright © 2009 Journalist Deena Guzder
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