While working as a visiting scholar in the history department at UC-Berkeley several years ago, I complained to a colleague about the terrible traffic congestion in the city, and particularly the difficult time I had finding a parking place near campus. He replied that the solution was simple: UCB provides free parking for all its Nobel Prize winners. Another colleague, visiting from Berkeleyís arch rival, Stanford University, overheard the remark and replied: "At Stanford we canít afford to do this: there are too many Nobel Prize winners on our faculty."
At the University of Grenoble we donít have this problem. Louis Néel, the Nobel Prize winning nuclear physicist, who worked here until his death last November at the age of 96, shared with the rest of us the comfort of an excellent electric tram system to the campus and elsewhere in the city, making the ubiquitous one-and-a-half ton, gas-guzzling automobile of California non-essential in this university town. Instead of basking in reflected glory, the "town and gown" of Grenoble enjoy together the very real benefits of inexpensive public transportation.
The Grenoble-based directors of CIESIMSA met last Thursday night, January 18, to discuss how to improve our new research center. We examined some of the theories and methods employed by scholars at our center, and we began to plan our first international colloquium, which will take place January 4-5, 2002. [See our home page rubric, "Colloquiums".]
After collectively reviewing our entire website, there were several suggestions for cosmetic changes that would improve the appearance of our site. We now have more than 100 articles, essays and other entries attached to the 19 Ateliers on our site, as well as 8 very productive web Links offering hundreds of additional websites covering topics like ecology, labor, economics, state policies, and social movements, etc.... [See the "Links" rubric located at the end of our home page.]
Two innovative ideas were introduced at the Thursday night meeting, both of which seek to improve reader accessibility to our website: a) It was agreed that the center should organize bi-monthly meetings, inviting graduate students, colleagues and the informed public to discuss a selected topic from our centerís research on transnational corporations. The directors of Atleier No.3 offered to present a critique of the organization and social impact of the McDonaldís Restaurant Corporation in early March. [Additional information, including the time and place of the conference, will be announced on our website in the near future.] b) It was likewise agreed by the directors at last Thursdayís meeting that the CIESIMSA website should include a bi-weekly Newsletter, which would accomplish essentially two things: (i) call attention to specific essays and items of information found in our Ateliers, and (ii) relate the research that is being done at our center to current events, as they develop each fortnight around the world. In this way, it was agreed at our directorsí meeting, we might attract wider interest in our new website and render the research published in our Ateliers more accessible a larger public.
The International Herald Tribune published a front-page story on Wednesday, January 10, declaring that NATO Allies were split on the use of uranium-tipped shells in Kosovo. The article was placed next to a grim photo of seven people clad in white protection uniforms and matching masks scanning the ground with radiation measuring devices. The article went on to explain that the "U.S. and Britain see no hazard but some members want proof". The controversy arose after several member countries of NATO reported an unusually high rate of cancer cases among veterans who had returned from peace-keeping duties in the Balkans. Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands claimed that the American jets that dropped 31,000 rounds of depleted-uranium warheads and shells in Kosovo to drive out the Yugoslav Army had contaminated the area. In addition to the increased cases of cancer, other soldiers who served in Kosovo complained of symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue to hair loss. These symptoms are reminiscent of the Gulf War Syndrome suffered by American soldiers who served in the 1991 Desert Storm campaign against Iraq.
Secretary of State Madeline Albright responded to the international alarm by stating, "Thereís absolutely no proof that thereís a connection. ... It is important to understand that this is a scientifically based question, not an emotional one." Because of the metalís density, uranium-tipped shells are considered the best weapons to penetrate heavy armor. "Itís a very effective weapon," observed Mark Laity, special advisor to the NATO secretary-general, George Robertson. "Itís got less radiation, " he continued, "than the normal uranium that can be found in your own backyard."
The U.S. military in collaboration with the federal government has a long history of weapons experimentation and public denial. To name only a few instances, the Nevada nuclear weapons testings in the 1950s, which exposed hundreds of American soldiers and local residents to radiation poising, was finally acknowledged as "criminal negligence" by the U.S. government, but only in 1991, after unrelenting public pressure. Likewise, the use of the carcinogenic defoliant, Agent Orange, in Vietnam led to hundreds of law suits in America against the U.S. government, which for a long time denied the existence of any relationship between the chemical defoliant and the unusually high rate of cancer and birth defects in the families of GIs returning from the Vietnam War. And, as mentioned above, the Gulf War Syndrome was repeatedly denied by the executive branch of government, until the number of complaints hit "critical mass" and the Pentagon had to acknowledge the use of depleted-uranium in the attack on Iraq. [For a discussion of the current U.S. government cover-up, see the new documentary film, Hidden Wars of Desert Storm (Free Will Productions, 2000), directed by Audrey Brohy and Gerald Ungerman, with narration by John Hunt that was recently shown on ARTE.]
On our website James and Andrew Stevenson offer an historical interpretation of U.S. military expenditures. They claim in their article, "A U.S. Empire and Its Military For the Few" [see Atelier No.2, Article No.1], that "few have explained the real causes behind those expenditures or indicated the interests that most benefit from those expenditures." Why would the American government demonstrate repeatedly a criminal negligence in the development and the use of weapons? The answer to this question, the authors suggest, involves a second question: Who are the big beneficiaries of U.S. military expansion? The billions of dollars of military contracts granted each year by the Department of Defense are awarded to only a few companies. In 1998, four companies received more than 25 percent of all DoD contracts.
And, quite apart from the monopoly power which some of
these corporations hold over the production and sale of
certain weapons systems, these corporations and their
subsidiaries exert enormous influence over the U.S.
political system. That influence not only occurs due to their
lobbyists and their campaign contributions to politicians,
but it occurs because they have dispersed units of their
production systems throughout the country. In short, they
have shrewdly created far flung, grass roots, political
constituencies that encourage Congressional representatives
to vote for huge military budgets in order to sustain dependent
communities and personal livelihoods.
Thus, according to the Stevensons, the big winners in the military-industrial economy are a very small number of international investors and CEOs. But the economy is "shrewdly" constructed to incorporate tens of millions of workers and their families across America into a dependency on arms production.
[T]he corporate infrastructure of the U.S. military-industrial
complex, its grass roots constituencies, its elite political allies,
and the violent, yet fear-ridden, political culture that prevails
in America all combine to provide a vital undergirding for
something larger and vastly more significant.
The "more significant" aspect of U.S. military production, according to this essay, is the world economy, in which a large social class of producers, including U.S. military personnel and their foreign allies, are made vulnerable to illness and death as a consequence of a policy guided by enormous private profits going to a very small international economic elite.
William Hartungís article, "The Corporate Campaign for NATO Expansion" [Atelier No.2, Article No.4] was originally written for the Multinational Monitor (March 1998). It represents a warning that post-Cold War strategies of American policy makers intend to expand U.S. military production and contract American companies to supply NATO forces in Europe. "The Cold War may be over," writes Hartung,
but at $270 billion per year, the Pentagon budget is still at
Cold War levels. This poses a serious public relations problem
for the Department of Defense and its allies in the weapons
industry, since, as Colin Powell noted a few years back, the
United States is "running out of enemies." The military-industrial
complex needs a mission to justify its continued hold on the public
purse, and NATO expansion is the latest candidate to fill that role,
and an expensive candidate at that.
The post-Cold-War U.S. military objective, according to both essays, will be more of the same: to assure an "Open Door" to U.S. capital investments anywhere and everywhere in the world.
Knowing the history of U.S. military abuse and the pattern of repeated U.S. government denials, it might leave some readers almost incredulous to hear, at this late date, Portugalís Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, remark cautiously that, "The time has come for us no longer to have complete confidence in anyone." We recommend the Stevensonsí essay, the article by Hartung, and other materials on our research website to Mr. Guterres and to any other European citizen, who might question the credibility of the executive branch of the U.S. government and seek better information about the history of U.S. military expansion and the casualties -among both its declared "foes" and its professed "allies" alike.
Note: We welcome readers to send us critiques and commentaries of the materials
presented on our website, to be published as a regular part of our bi-weekly Newsletter.
Address : Francis.Feeley@u-grenoble3.fr