Is the Military/Industrial Complex “Moderate?”

How to Reestablish Moderation in Our Politics

The Lafayette Journal and Courier featured two stories on its front pages on Wednesday and Thursday, March 4 and 5, 2020, that bear on current ideology and practice at Purdue University and the community of West Lafayette, Indiana. 

The March 5 article, (Dave, Bangert, “Bayh, Lieberman Make Pitch for Moderation in Time of Incivility,”) was placed below the fold after an article declaring that “Joe Biden Roars Back.” The article, on “moderation,” was a report about a panel that had occurred on the campus of Purdue University, chaired by University President Mitch Daniels with panelists, former senators Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman. Daniels indicated that the two former senators were politicians that “embodied moderation in its finest form.” He quipped that being labeled a moderate was once regarded a compliment.  

Bayh, Lieberman and Daniels were advocates for “moderation,” agreeing that American political life had become more “polarized.” For Bayh, the polarization resulted from the decline of neighborhoods and communities and the sense of togetherness that social networking brings to sociability and tolerance. Lieberman decried a factionalism that he said was derived from political party and ideological groups. Lieberman added a psychological interpretation to those who are polarizing; they are “unsettled.” “anxious,” “fearful of their futures, and don’t feel as good about the country.” Daniels added that incivility was justified by claims about being authentic and spontaneous but uncivil discourse was a “type of communication intended to establish dominance through shouting the loudest.”

The panelists urged people who were Democrats to support “centrists” and for more people (who it was claimed were moderates) to vote in primary elections, to counter-balance the more typically ideologically-minded primary election voters. 

Collaboration Between a Military Contractor, a City, and a University

One day earlier, the newspaper featured a story headlined, “Saab Jet Fuselage Plant Tax Incentives Finalized.” It is a story about the city of West Lafayette and Purdue University collaborating with the automotive giant SAAB to establish a plant on campus to manufacture a new jet fighter fuselage. The paper described the West Lafayette City Council’s granting of a “rare tax abatement package.” The package approved by West Lafayette will include “a 100 percent abatement over the next five years on $16.5 million in real property investments and a 10-year  abatement on $15 million in equipment and other personal property in the plant.…” City figures estimate this deal would save Saab $2.1 million. The article referred to additional multi-million dollar grants and tax credits provided by the state of Indiana and business associations. The fuselages will be used in the new Boeing T-X jet trainer for the Air Force.  

This new manufacturing facility is being built on the west side of the university campus. Spokespersons claim the new venture would create 200 well-paying jobs in the future and generate over $7 million in tax revenue separate from the abatements over the next 25 years. Spokespersons at the Council meeting praised the attractive offer made by West Lafayette and Purdue. The view was articulated that recent “downtown” street developments were part of the overall vision of transforming the community, the university, and the region within the state that attracted Saab.

Militarization of a University and Community

“Purdue is advancing a broad defense innovation capability, distinguished by its depth, breadth, and speed, with the goal of contributing to our nation’s third offset strategy of innovation by integration of existing strengths and forming new partnerships. The depth in quality and creativity of Purdue research centers is, and will remain, our strongest asset. The breadth responds to the need expressed by multiple DoD customers for a ‘total package’: new, integrated solutions (technologies, transition), new talent (graduates highly trained in relevant problems), and new modes of knowledge access (personnel exchange, training, distance education). 

Purdue University researchers conducted over $40M of sponsored research in the 2014-2015 academic year and, in doing so, educated hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students in cutting edge technologies.”

Since 2012, Purdue University spokespersons have argued that the university was uniquely qualified to do the work needed to provide for the “nation’s security.” CEOs of defense contractors agreed. One corporate spokesperson visiting campus celebrated increased US military budgets, officially at $740 billion, which would benefit both military corporations and universities.  

One Purdue administrator claimed that the United States was engaged in an arms race that justified new technologies, from aero-space weapons, artificial intelligence, drones, next generation drones, to a space force. It was argued that new military capabilities were justified because the world remained a dangerous place; wars, if not inevitable, were likely in the future; and China, a rising power, constituted a threat to United States national security. Purdue University, it was said, had the scientific and engineering experience to work with corporations to build the weapons and had the social scientists who could explain and justify the new arms race. And the community in which the university was housed was encouraging and incentivizing corporate participation through the development of the Greater Lafayette area as a hub for a developing regional military/industrial complex.

What Does “Moderation” Mean in the Face of the Militarization of a Community and a University?

In the context of a substantial absorption of the West Lafayette community and Purdue University into the military/industrial complex, how do people respond who question the fundamental premises of the military developments and are disturbed by the impacts of this militarization of a community and university?

What does “moderation” look like in the face of these local developments, particularly as most decisions leading up to the current moment have been incremental and to a considerable degree made with little transparency?

How do concerned citizens respond to the further militarization of this and other communities as experts among the renowned Bulletin of Atomic Scientists estimate the probability of movement toward nuclear war as closer and closer to midnight, the metaphorical time of nuclear war.

And how are citizens concerned with the environment (the military as the biggest government polluter), the health care deficit, homelessness, and declining support for public education kindergarten through college, supposed to give input when billions of dollars are allocated to so-called “national security.”

In the context of  developments in one community and at one university, which are being replicated all across the country, it might be concluded that “moderation” comes down to a defense of the status quo.

by Harry Targ