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Schools Should Not Be Missions for the Empire's Wars

by Dr Rich Gibson Wednesday, May. 23, 2007 at 2:46 AM

San Diego school workers are being pressed to participate in a massive pro-war campaign disguised as a "support the troops," campaign. Educators have nothing to gain from the empire's relentless demands for cheap labor, raw materials, and social control, and neither do our kids.

Schools and Teachers Should Not Be Missions and Missionaries For Capital’s Wars

The San Diego City Schools are about to launch a massive outpouring of witless patriotism, centered on the notion: Support Our Troops.

Yesterday, some teachers behaved otherwise. They helped shut down the Port of Oakland, demanding money for schools, not war.

Good for those Oakland school workers!

The SDCS propaganda effort is co-sponsored by war profiteer Xerox, where CEO Anne Mulcahy recently proved her own loyalties to her partners in production by laying off one-third of the Xerox work force.

In addition, students and school workers are urged to write the troops via a web site sponsored by war profiteer (and failing corporation) General Motors which is promising to lay off 30,000 more workers in order to remain profitable, while its owners continue to rake in millions.

The Support Our Troops surge will mean hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand, of teachers will feel sharp pressure to produce support for a war that is clearly an imperialist war crime, fought for regional control and oil, at base: profits.

Who doesn't want to support our troops? I don't. Those are not "my " troops nor "Ours" .Those are "Their" troops, until they behave otherwise.

They are engaged in war crimes all over world, most of them volunteering to fight what are really the enemies of their enemies, and many of them know that, but they go forth and do it, do their main mission---killing people on behalf of a dying empire---anyway.

Why that is, is most assuredly complex. But, after all, we are what we do.

I had many returned Iraq and Afghanistan US troops in my classes at San Diego State (one of the most militarized areas in the US). As my field is directly concerned with the empire's wars, we talk about them a lot, and my views are clear enough. My students know I go demonstrate at Camp Pendleton and the Naval Training Station every time I can, that I distribute lit on campuses and in high schools urging people not to go to the military and suggesting they disobey their officers, to refuse to fight, if they do go. They also know they have my full support in disagreeing in class, and out, if they demonstrate some reason for their positions---as members of the Rouge Forum who are now in Iraq, or in the service, know.

Nearly every one of the returned vets in my classes has been clear about why they were in Iraq (there is some dispute about Afghanistan). In Iraq, they are told, as they disembark, that they are there for the oil. Officers make it clear to the troops. The military has to have oil to function. It's key to imperial might. That is a far stretch from the claims of the past: fighting

for democracy or fighting communism. Those motivators are replaced with: Shoot those people or they will kill your buddies and then kill you. It may be the lowest form of motivation in US military history, but it works.

I think US civil society has become ensnared in this "support our troops" problem.

By manipulating the issue away from imperial policies, to support for troops, pro-war mis-leaders have a found a powerful wedge. We shouldn't allow it.

I'll support the troops in reconsidering what they are doing, in offering ways to get out of the military, in showing people how to organize and disobey, in seeking benefits they may need, but I will not support them when they do their main mission.

A key reason that the US ran out of Vietnam was because the military was in disarray, troops refused to fight. It is equally true that this mass refusal came about in part because the Vietnamese changed their minds by killing them, defeating them ethically, morally, politically, and militarily. Nearly 60,000 dead. It wasn't just handing out leaflets at induction centers that turned the troops around.

Returned troops from Vietnam were not spat upon, but they were surely shunned. It was, at least on the working class campuses I was visiting, not cool to wear your ROTC uniform or announce that you were about to allow yourself to be drafted. That shunning may have had some power, or not. I don't know. The film "Sir No Sir!" is revealing

Following Vietnam, the US leadership worked mightily to recreate the image (and reality) of the military, especially by creating the volunteer military. While there is an easily seen economic draft (and the levels of hopeless in the US are part of that), it remains that the troops I have met fully believe they are volunteers. This perception is significant in maintaining discipline (loyalty and obedience---the ethics of slaves) among military personnel who have, now, been sent back to Iraq three and four times, for reasons those troops know have nothing to do with improving the lot of Iraqis, nor Americans.

Part of recreating the image of the military was to fashion the myth of a loss in Vietnam created by "the stab in the back" on the home front, ie, a betrayal of "our troops," by civilians. Part of that was to forge the myth of the spat up vet.

The left response to this seems to be the insistence that this volunteer military is more "ours'" than Bush/Clintons. As it is unlikely the US will suffer the kind of casualties in its smaller wars (leading, quite likely, to bigger wars), that it suffered in Vietnam (3500 dead is about 1/3 of a single bad day at Gettysburg), the change of mind among the US troops that is critical

to challenging the system of capital is probably not going to come from fear of engaging. It will have to come from other pressures, including the pressure of letting the troops know that what they are doing is condemnable, and that they will get supported when they quit volunteering. Our task is to find options for them, and to offer methods of understanding why these wars are conducted, and who is really on whose side.

The "support our troops" mind-set is also dangerous in that it supplements the idea that there is some kind of mass consensus opposing war now. I don't see that. I see a completely fickle US public that has turned on its own heroes, Bush/Clinton et al, for no profound reason at all, other than it appears the wars have dragged on a bit long. This is a dangerous public, not prepared to resist war and racism, but primed to cheering winning wars. The shift in public opinion is an indication of how volatile Americans are, not how wise we are. "Support our troops," will just buttress a loud, "hoorah" when, and if, the US decides to pummel Tehran into oblivion---which is possible. The US public is, I think, opposed to losing long wars, not opposed to winning short ones, or

even appearing to be winning shorter wars.

I am not rooting for the death of anyone. I abhor violence, but I do not think the Masters are going to adopt the ethics of the Slaves. As fascism emerges around us, we need to struggle to come close to what is true, in order to find out what to do. What is fascism?

We are what we do. We should not encourage people to do what they are told to do or make a fetish of a flag when we all live in societies rooted in exploitation and violence. We are not, "all in this together in one nation." We witness an international war of the rich on the poor, a class war that now takes the appearance of inter-imperialist wars, or fallacious wars on terror.

Educators are uniquely positioned in de-industrialized America to take leadership in opposition to the promise of perpetual war. At issue in part is whether or not we have the courage to fight for the freedom we must have to teach toward what is true about war, capitalism, imperialism, and racism---each flowing into the other.

Here is a link to Wayne Ross' web site which holds a smart discussion with Nancy Patterson about academic freedom today

Chalmers Johnson, author of the recent Nemesis trilogy says Americans today cannot connect cause and effect, that Americans cannot think critically, that Americans slip into what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil," referring to Nazi death camp boss Adolph Eichman who, though well read and able to recite Kant calmly at his trial, had given over his decision making processes to his Fuhrer.

This form of evil is simply the inability to think, to think critically, or identify with others---and the current state of the public's willingness to tolerate a President and Attorney General openly set upon wiping out all civil liberties and conducting endless war is a warning sign. So is the lack of uprisings in schools where children should be urged to boycott these mindless flag ceremonies and go to the library to learn something they care about. Mindless curricula standards and high-stakes exams are designed to re-fashion the banality of evil. It works.

The US will not leave Iraq. The oil is too important. That's why there are five permanent bases built there already, one of them the biggest US base in the world, along with the biggest embassy in the world. The promise of relentless war is, perhaps, the only truth coming out of the Bush administration, and the denial of that fact the Big Lie coming from Democrats.

We should not prepare children to be fodder for billionaires' wars.

What educators do matters, more than ever. We are now pressed, like the troops, with a life and death question: Whose side are we on? We should reject the militarization of our schools and, like the troops, refuse the criminal orders we are given.

The Rouge Forum discussion group ( might be a good place to debate these issues.

Dr Rich Gibson

Professor Emeritus

College of Education

San Diego State University

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