“They gazed at the wall rising around them, encircling them for all time. They touched, smelled, tasted, and listened to it, and talked about it until they died. They did absolutely everything but challenge its rise, and could have toppled it if they had tried.” —The Last American Novel (manuscript)
Most people I meet in my daily strike for peace at University of Oregon—even the Pentagon-funded researchers who work there—are unaware that making and selling weapons has been America’s top industry since 1950. They are unaware that we have sustained this weapons-based economy by supplying more than 200 wars in 55 years, and that some 310,000 companies and 400 colleges are currently on the Pentagon’s payroll. That is a big commercial enterprise. Faced with peace, economic crises arise to keep the enterprise going. Thus, when the Cold War ended, the Pentagon increased its efforts to outsource all aspects of war to schools and companies in our communities.
The Strike for Peace Campaign is a personally practical way to address this reality. A goal is to develop and share a successful strategy with students and supporters on my campus and, eventually, on others as well. I am becoming known as “the peace guy” whose office is a 10’ x 10’ tent on the best piece of property on campus: across from the administration building at the feet of the Pioneer Father statue (he spread freedom with a gun way back when), in a park-like setting that couldn’t be more pleasant for intelligent discussions. The only negative remarks I have seen about this work were printed in the campus paper in the first week of the campaign, where a representative of the College Republicans was quoted as saying, “I disagree with Bogart’s views,” a half hour before I expressed my views on the first day of school. Without investigation, the paper’s editors also claimed I was shunning schoolwork, for which they later apologized. It is possible to integrate the work for peace with schoolwork and all other forms of personal work.
The Work Before Us The 1950 decision to support a military-first rather than a people-first America—made without the knowledge and consent of the American people—was the egg that hatched the Cold War. Since then America has more public servants beholden to the industry of war than the industry of progress.
It doesn’t have to be this way. America’s founding vision, born of the Age of Enlightenment, asserts that citizenship requires vigilance over government, and the rigorous pursuit of social improvement to serve the needs of the people. That vision has been trumped by the current priority, born of the Age of Cynicism, which elevates weapons profit above human prosperity, and it is killing any chance of success for equal rights, a clean environment, fair elections, a balanced media, a just world, and thus a meaningful future. Every problem our planet bears is caused, exploited, or worsened by America’s war machine. Injustice feeds it, and we must stop it. We must take the profit out of war or war will take the life out of us.
Our founders entrusted us with the advancement of their imperfect vision. They taught us to pursue it by continuous alteration of government: to abolish or remake it as necessary to stay on a safe and forward path. Remaking government has never been more necessary than it is today. Unless abated, the misspending of our commonwealth will soon deliver us the same fate that befell the Soviet Union.
We cannot overcome this dilemma through traditional means. Changing administrations or ending the war in Iraq without changing our national priority will neither alter our course nor banish the plague of perpetual conflict. Both major parties have sustained this plague for 55 years. Congress will remain contaminated, and the system frozen, until conscientious Americans challenge the root cause of corruption—war and its profiteers.
The American people are the key to change, but we must do more than cast votes. Working the symptoms, while necessary, falls fatally short of progress. By not confronting the root cause of our problems, we keep the weapons industry healthy and approaching the moment of severing our right to challenge it at all. By failing to unite, and when lulled into the voting routine, citizens are cogs in the war machine.
Instead of developing technology for global battlefields, to the detriment of domestic and international prosperity, our hard work, our taxes, and our research should benefit people first. Funding for education should reflect that priority.
Our challenge lies in breaking through the saturation burden that prevents us from effectively engaging our government—the email overload, the fog of 500 TV channels, you name it. United around this solution and against the machine—not its cogs, but its operators—we advance an ironclad strategy of basic American principles that our servants cannot refute.
Profiteers have proven that greed unites. But filling the world with weapons cannot deliver security and prosperity; it only exaggerates and exacerbates the conflicts. It is the cause of terror, not its solution. The people must prove that love of life unites, and then act on one cause to upgrade America to restore our world and embrace a common future.
In the first three years of my research at university, I learned that profit-driven military policies are threatening our near future. Now I choose to strike for what’s right in my final year. Just three weeks into the Strike for Peace Campaign (begun on September 26), our faculty senate vowed to address the issue of military-funded research. Americans must demand the same vow from Washington. No more excuses, no time to rest—top industry, weapons; top loser, life. We are cogs in this machine unless active against it. If we do not unite to advance our founding vision for peace, we will perish by advancing our technology for war.
As I write, we are meeting privately with each faculty senate member (all 48 of them) in advance of a general discussion in the senate about military funding on campus. Like everyone else, they understand the need for transparency between public servants and those they serve, and the urgent need to correct the growing crisis fostered around the world by America’s current anti-people policies. We will set a precedent here, and then take this campaign to re-democratize America to other schools and finally our administrators in Washington.
University of Oregon’s first graduate student in Peace Studies, Brian Bogart has been invited by members of Parliament to the International Peace Conference in London as one of 1000 delegates from the United States, Britain, and Iraq. To contribute to The London Fund and help make this journey possible, please visit the Help Us page at strikeforpeace.org