By Nick Rabb
The climate crisis is an intimate partner of the U.S. empire’s military apparatus. For one, the Pentagon is the largest institutional polluter on the planet. Their war games also pollute land across the world, destroy ecosystems, and force people out of their homes. The dominating systems that comprise it – like systems of media propaganda, the military-industrial complex (MIC), the police – are actively at play propagating the power of the fossil fuel industry at all costs. Pipeline protests are brutally repressed by police. The military works across the world to secure resources needed for global capitalism – destroying the environment in the process . The industrial arm of the military industrial complex lobbies the government to fund war lavishly instead of putting money towards averting climate catastrophe.
U.S. militarism is part of the country’s DNA – – a legacy borne from colonialism and racial capitalism. Militarized systems allow the powerful to steal land and resources from the majority of the population. If we fight back, they crush us. And, as the climate crisis continues and worsens, the temptation by states and their capitalist partners to deal with problems with increased domination will grow. We all must protest these systems if we want to have a livable planet.
The threat to our environment by the rich and powerful—indeed the threat to life on earth–is exemplified by our government’s investment in nuclear weapons in defiance of international law and treaties it has signed. The U.S. uses nuclear weapons to bully other nations into doing what the MIC wants, playing an extremely dangerous game with weapons that could end society in a flash. Nuclear weapons and the climate crisis are twin existential threats borne of runaway capitalism and imperialism. The devastation caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and by depleted uranium munitions used in Iraq provide only the dimmest preview of the environmental horrors that would be caused by the nuclear weapons being built today.
There are so many contributors to the existential threat inherent in the production, maintenance, and sale of nuclear weapons, but it is clear that the Big 5 military industrial complex companies, including Raytheon Technologies, are a huge part of the problem. For one, their building of nuclear weapons directly pollutes and destroys the land on which we must live. Their take-over of land and testing of weapons kicks people out of their homes and forces mass migration. Their factories and jets pollute our air and water. Their ideology pollutes our minds, leading to people justifying extraction and murder on a wide scale that becomes hidden behind their paychecks and coworkers rationalizing their complicity in crimes.
The MIC knows these practices are unpopular, so it uses propaganda and tactics to legitimize itself to some of the most vulnerable in our society. Raytheon and other MIC companies purposely recruit young people, especially BIPOC, promising opportunities to advance economically and socially. In a 2017 DoD report , four of the top 10 reasons given for why young people would join the military was to pay for education or socially advance. In 2019, Army General Frank Muth was quoted saying, “The low unemployment rate and booming economy make recruiting difficult, especially when compared to past recruiting pushes during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that lined up closer to a major global recession.”
At my school, Tufts University, the School of Engineering regularly brings Raytheon Technologies recruiters to campus. Raytheon has had a long partnership with Tufts; indeed, the company was founded by two former Tufts alumni, and the Chairman of the Raytheon board served on the Tufts Board of Trustees for 20 years. Tufts promotes internships with Raytheon and invites their propagandists to come to campus to offer high salaries and low working hours to engineering students. What the recruiters don’t mention are their complicity in crimes, which I and a group of other students brought up at a recruitment presentation (billed as “How to get an internship”) this past May.
When I asked how the recruiters felt about their role in making bombs that were dropped on weddings and school buses, they had a canned answer asserting that they aren’t involved in that sort of thing– they “keep soldiers safe.” When I kept pressing, they got angry and called campus police to escort me away. After I left voluntarily, I was approached by a campus police officer and told that my financial aid may be in jeopardy if the School of Engineering gets angry enough about our questioning of military recruiters – a threat that we found unacceptable. This protest came on the heels of our protesting a General Dynamics recruitment event, so the School of Engineering administration was certainly angry at our interruptions of their partnerships.
Through these actions on campus, I have learned some lessons that I want to share here – lessons that I think are crucial in our campaign against MIC companies and technologies.
First, I learned that on our campuses, these recruiters (and military companies in general) rely on students keeping quiet and not standing up to them. Once we open our mouths in protest, they have no legs to stand on and simply resort to violence to quiet us.
Second, the propaganda put out by companies like Raytheon Technologies is unfortunately effective. Many engineering students at the event where my fellow students and I protested were not fans of our questioning, saying that we were jeopardizing their chances to get profitable internships. There is a long way to go with STEM students who are never taught about these companies’ crimes. Yet on the other hand, many non-STEM students applauded our actions and we created an enormous buzz around campus. We discovered that we had more allies than we imagined.
Third, these companies rely on their partnerships with universities; consequently, disrupting them is a huge blow to their recruitment and legitimacy pipeline. Universities value these relationships as well, to the point that they are willing to use their police to quell dissenters. Thus, the facet of the military industrial complex that includes universities should be a prime target for efforts to demilitarize, and to protect and sustain a livable planet.
Young people and students these days are widely immersing themselves in anti-racist, anti-colonial and pro-environmental reading and study. In the wake of the racial justice uprisings in 2020, and the worsening climate crisis, there are many young people who are seeing that U.S. militarism is a part of why our political systems are so destructive. They are ready to be organized and a huge asset to the movement.
Since this article was first published just two months ago, students across multiple campuses in the Boston area led several more protests and demonstrations focusing on the connections between militarism, climate injustice, and academia.
Students disrupted a class at the Harvard Kennedy School taught by Meghan O’Sullivan because of her current role on the Board of Directors of Raytheon Technologies and past job in the administration of President George W. Bush where, as Deputy National Security Adviser, she was one of the original advocates for the Iraq “surge” in 2007. At Boston University student groups held multiple protests outside of career fairs that hosted companies including General Dynamics, the fifth-largest weapons-maker in the world. As a result, General Dynamics chose not to participate in the career fair. At Tufts University, students occupied the space outside of a recruiting event for the Central Intelligence Agency. Over the course of an hour and a half speakers listed the many crimes of the CIA including illegal coups, murders, torture, and participation in the narcotics trade.
The links between struggles against militarism, climate destruction, and economic injustice are getting noticed on campus, a promising development and a space to watch.