20 April 2011

Militarization, the Academy, and the Role of Public Intellectuals Against War

Adrienne Pine is an anthropologist at American University. The extract below comes from her longer article on her blog, and was republished by Monthly Review as "Obstruct Militarization and the Usurpation of Democracy."

It is now more important than ever to study militarization, not through a false academic neutrality, but rather with the express purpose of ending it. Randolph Bourne emphasized this in his 1917 essay "The War and the Intellectuals":
[T]he intellectuals whom the crisis has crystallized into an acceptance of war have put themselves into a terrifying strategic position. It is only on the craft, in the stream, they say, that one has any chance of controlling the current forces for liberal purposes. If we obstruct, we surrender all power for influence. If we responsibly approve, we then retain our power for guiding. We will be listened to as responsible thinkers, while those who obstructed the coming of war have committed intellectual suicide and shall be cast into outer darkness. Criticism by the ruling powers will only be accepted from those intellectuals who are in sympathy with the general tendency of the war. Well, it is true that they may guide, but if their stream leads to disaster and the frustration of national life, is their guiding any more than a preference whether they shall go over the right-hand or the left-hand side of the precipice? Meanwhile, however, there is comfort on board. Be with us, they call, or be negligible, irrelevant. Dissenters are already excommunicated. Irreconcilable radicals, wringing their hands among the debris, become the most despicable and impotent of men. There seems no choice for the intellectual but to join the mass of acceptance. But again the terrible dilemma arises -- either support what is going on, in which case you count for nothing because you are swallowed in the mass and great incalculable forces bear you on; or remain aloof, passively resistant, in which case you count for nothing because you are outside the machinery of reality.
To follow Sartre, a true intellectual is not one who makes apologies for the war machine -- he refers to such academics as technicians of practical knowledge. In today's parlance we might call them tools of empire. A true intellectual, according to Sartre, is a radicalized companion of the masses. We should be all using the academy not because of its inherent, removed or abstract value, but rather as a strategic tool that gives us symbolic legitimacy that can enable us to be more effective in this radicalized companionship. Randolph Bourne rightly noted in the above quote that obstruction often disqualifies academics as legitimate critics. And yet it is our duty as intellectuals -- and I consider all of us here in this room intellectuals in the best Gramscian sense of the term -- to accompany our compaƱeras y compaƱeros throughout the hemisphere by obstructing -- obstructing the State Department, obstructing the U.S. Military Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), obstructing the "civil society" groups funded and orchestrated by USAID and other shadowy governmental and non-governmental actors with the aim of usurping democracy throughout the Americas, and obstructing all the other actors who work constantly and diligently to prevent us all from having the choice to live without the war machine.
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