Bombs and Balcones
How UT profits from the war economy
By Scott Henson and Tom Philpott
December 1989; pages 4-5, 11; Volume 1, No. 3
Whatever else it did, U.S. involvement in World War II radically transformed the role of the nation's universities. Institutes of higher education changed more between 1939 and 1945 than they had between 1215 and 1939. As a result of the mobilization for war, universities were co-opted into the Allied effort. With the rise of the Cold War came the rise of the university not just as educator but as think-tank and research center for the national security state - what former University of California chancellor Clark Kerr called the "multiversity."
The University of Texas was not immune to this phenomenon, and in many ways typifies it. The new multiversity was molded in such a way as to nurture the war economy, and has changed very little since that time. There are two major ways universities provide institutional support to the military sector: through research and development, and through direct investments of both funds and personnel. Today the United States isn't fighting fascists or the Ruskies; it's fighting in defense of its "vital interests" (read: imperial infrastructure) in the Third World, most recently in El Salvador.
Polemicist has decided to dissect this relationship, to expose the fundamental support the University provides for the war economy.
One way the University supports war and repression is through its research - both the research it performs directly for the military and research it subsidizes for the nation's military contractors. Since UT policy forbids doing classified research on campus, the UT-System has beefed up facilities and operations at the Balcones Research Center, where classified research is both allowed and encouraged.
The Balcones Research Center
In a 1987 speech, President Cunningham has called Balcones the "focal point" for UT's research investments "over the next several decades." In fact, Balcones has been the focal point for the last decade, too. In the same speech, Cunningham reported that the UT System had already diverted some $60 million into upgrading the center since 1980.
The Balcones Research Center was first utilized at the end of World War II when the Air Force moved its War Research Laboratory there. The lab was established in 1942 to develop firing system for B-29s. Then, in 1945, the Defense Research Lab was established by the Navy to develop a series of surface-to-air guided missiles. In 1949, DRL expanded its program to include research in underwater acoustics. Then in 1964, the two labs merged into the Applied Research Laboratory. Today, 90 percent of ARL's research focuses on underwater acoustics.
Until the 1980s, the ARL was the only significant research facility at Balcones, and 75 percent of the work it did was unclassified. But during the Reagan years, high-tech military research was increasingly restricted. By 1987, over 70 percent of its work was classified. UT's open marketplace of ideas, if it exists anywhere, does not extend to the Balcones Research Park.
Then, in the 1980s, Balcones became the site for the many new UT high-tech research facilities. Perhaps the best known research project, the rail gun at UT's Center for Electromechanics, is housed at Balcones.
Since 1986, one of the UT System's goals has been to establish a permanent, Defense Department-funded research lab at Balcones - comparable to Lawrence Livermore National Radiation Lab at Berkeley or NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. To lure the lab, the UT-System has issued a 300-page proposal to the Defense Department, the contents of which UT System Chancellor Hans Mark refuses to reveal. He claims that "it only helps the competition to say what we're going do."
Mark has divulged that the new lab would "obviously draw on the work done" at the University's Center for Electromechanics, located at the Balcones Research Center. CEM's major achievement to date has been the development of the "rail gun," a phenomenally high-powered weapon that grew out of Reagan-era Star Wars research.
Rail guns use powerful bursts of electricity to push projectiles along two parallel copper rails, whereas normal guns rely on simple gas combustion. A rail gun is powered by a homopolar generator, which pumps 900 million watts - approximately the wattage Travis County uses in a year - into the gun in bursts of one-tenth of a second. Theoretically, a rail gun could hurl projectiles at speeds of up to 30 miles per second and could accurately bomb targets on the moon.
Polemicist, for the record, opposes bombing the moon.
CEM first received funding for rail guns through Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative in 1984. Previously, UT scientists had had difficulty funding rail gun research because the Army feared that the device, as The Wall Street Journal put it, "wasn't really a gun." But SDI officials, egged on by Lloyd Bentson, Phil Gramm and other Texas politicos, eagerly backed the technology in hopes that the rail gun could shoot ICBMs out of the sky. It probably didn't hurt that Chancellor Hans Mark, who came to UT that same year from NASA, had close, personal ties with people like SDI chief Lt. General James Abrahamson and Edward Teller, the infamous Star Wars advocate and inventor of the hydrogen bomb.
By 1986, the Defense Department had poured $14 million in SDI funds into CEM. In July of that year, the Army, now convinced that CEM actually was producing a gun, awarded it a $6.1 million grant to produce a rail gun to mount on tanks. Then in September, the CEM's rail-gun development so impressed the Department of Defense that it awarded the lab with another contract, worth $15.7 million, to develop anti-tank applications for the gun. To win the contract, CEM overcame stiff corporate competition - multinational defense contractors General Electric and Westinghouse had both vied for the contract. The huge tank and anti-tank contracts cushioned the exodus of SDI funds from CEM's coffers in 1987.
No matter how much these scientists want to believe that their research is somehow contributing to the sum of human knowledge, their freedom of thought and creativity actually has been degraded because of the vested interests their work serves. As one scientist described the military's objectives: "They're not interested in [the rail gun] as a scientific tool. They want to know if it will blow a hole in a tank, and if not, if it can tip it over." Creating a national Army research lab would institutionalize these twisted relationships, and destroy the spirit of discovery that a university should embody.
UT Robotics Institute, Arlington, Texas
But not just explicitly military research projects support the war economy. The robotics institute in Arlington, established in 1985, was designed to supplement the defense industry in and around the Metroplex. Specifically, General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter were cited by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as two high-tech defense plants in Fort Worth that would benefit from the expertise of UT scientists.
General Dynamic's subsidiary, Cessna, has participated in massive aircraft sales to the governments of El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, and especially Guatemala. In addition, GD has been a major nuclear weapons producer: It's the sole producer of the Trident submarine and has worked on the design on development of cruise missiles and the nuclear-capable F16 Falcon.
Bell Helicopter's Fort Worth plant has manufactured more than $100 million worth of helicopters for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The Arlington robotics institute has directly aided this process by developing robot technology to lower Bell's labor costs. Among the products that UT research has subsidized is the Bell UH-1H, which the Salvadoran military used to strafe civilian neighborhoods during the recent FMLN offensive.
The chief proponent of the Arlington plant was Mr. "Military-Industrial Complex" himself, George Kozmetsky (see "Special K," page 3). Kozmetsky was also a key player in the landing of the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC), a research consortium largely made up of defense firms located at Balcones Research Center.
MCC was lured to Austin with promises of massive subsidies by the University and local government. The UT System purchased land and buildings at Balcones for $14 million, which it rents to MCC for $2 per year over ten years. In addition, MCC houses some $20 million in research capital UT owns. Its founder and former director, Adm. Bobby Inman, is also a former director of Naval Intelligence, former Director of the National Security Agency and former deputy director of the CIA.
MCC was designed to create, as George Kozmetsky put it, a "new paradigm" for the Strategic Defense Initiative. MCC performs basic research on new computer software and artificial intelligence, which would be integral parts of any space-based system. Inman himself believes that MCC is "vital to our national security."
All of MCC's current members accept defense contracts of one form or another, and many are among the largest weapons manufacturers in the world. Members include: Advanced Micro Devices, Bell Corps, Boeing, Control Data Digital Equipment, Eastman Kodak, General Electric Harris, Hewlett Packard, Honeywell, Cadence Design Systems, Westinghouse, Rockwell, NCR, National Semiconductor, Hughes Helicopter, Lockheed, Martin Marietta and 3M.
Many of these companies ship weapons to repressive governments in Central America. General Electric, for example, ships its minigun machinegun to both the Salvadoran and Honduran governments. GE also manufactures a gatling gun for mounting on helicopters that was used by Salvadoran soldiers to strafe neighborhoods in the latest offensive.
And a subsidiary of McDonnell-Douglas, Hughes Helicopters, manufactures the Hughes 500 helicopter which can fire 5000-6000 rounds per minute. Hughes 500s have been sold to the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
UT and Austin officials, buoyed by their success at landing MCC, launched a comprehensive campaign to draw yet another high-tech consortium, Sematech, to Austin in 1988.
The ties between the military industry and Sematech are even more direct than MCC. Sematech receives $100 million per year - half its budget - from the Department of Defense. The UT System helped draw the consortium to Austin by renting it $12.3 million in facilities for $1 per year over 20 years. Like MCC, all of its member companies accept military contracts. The companies include: Advanced Micro Devices, AT&T, Digital Equipment, Harris, Intel, IBM, LSI, Logic, Motorola, Micron, NCR, National Semiconductor, Rockwell and Texas Instruments.
To create Sematech, the original companies had to convince the federal government to waive anti-trust laws against industry collusion. Their argument was that to compete in the "global marketplace" - particularly against Japan - U.S. firms had to join forces.
But in practice, global competitiveness benefits less from Sematech's research than the nuclear weapons industry. The Austin American-Statesman reports that in August, Sematech officials agreed to "the most sweeping technology exchange agreement between a U.S. defense research laboratory and the private sector." Sematech transferred this information to Sandia National Laboratories, a project owned by the Department of Energy that's involved in every stage of nuclear weapons production from initial development to the time they are retired.
Research subsidies aren't the only way UT supports the war economy, however. UT also maintains direct investments in many military contractors, and also shares personnel with the defense community.
If you're familiar with UT's South African investments, it should come at no surprise that UT holds many investments in companies that either directly or indirectly support current wars in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America. Direct investments link UT with a profit motive for the escalation of the war, because companies from which it receives dividends make their profits from arms sales.
According to Jonathon Feldman's new book, Universities in the Business of Repression (South End Press, 1989), the UT stock portfolio is riddled with names of multinational defense contractors and other such nasty investments. For instance, the UT-System holds 173,200 shares of GTE Corp., which owns a 22 percent stake in an Israeli arms factory located in Guatemala. UT owns 296,890 shares in General Motors Corp., which has provided millions in engineering services to Honduras to support its C-130 aircraft. UT also owns 545,300 shares of General Electric (see above). UT owns 26,900 shares of Lockheed, which profits from arms shipments to Guatemala and Honduras as well as its major role in the nuclear weapons industry.
In addition, UT owns 99,000 shares of General Dynamics, cited above. UT owns 88,900 shares of E-Systems, of Dallas, which has sold aircraft modified for military use to the Salvadoran government. UT owns 41,600 shares of McDonnell-Douglas (see above). UT also owns 106,000 shares of Du Pont, which has worked with the CIA in providing Cessna 404 aircraft to the contras converted for military use. The list goes on.
But UT's complicity in the national security state goes beyond Central America. From the UT System's investment portfolio you can draw a virtual Who's Who of corporations who produce the nation's nuclear arsenal: GTE, Raytheon, Rockwell International, United Technologies, Westinghouse, Du Pont, Lockheed, General Dynamics, McDonnell-Douglas and Northrop, to name a few.
The UT System has never before shown much interest in anything besides profit maximization in making its investment policy decisions. Consider the case of the South Africa divestment movement of 1985: After all the demonstrations, all the arrests, the harsh sentences for the students who took over President Cunningham's office, all the bad press and indignant editorials, the UT System didn't divest a penny from companies that invest in South Africa. Similarly, it took intense opposition from neighborhood residents in the Blacklands - plus the negative press generated from the opposition - to convince the University to modify its development plans in that area.
We can't, then, expect the University to accept the moral argument against investing in war and poverty in Central America. As long as the University remains a profit-maximizing entity that mimics a corporation, it will continue to find common cause with the nation's war machine. The two will keep boosting each others' profit margins, even as the non-landed classes in Central America suffer violent oppression.
Another link between the university and the war economy is through the sharing of personnel. For example, UT-System Chancellor Hans Mark stands as almost a stereotype of the military-academic connections. He built nukes for the military while a professor at Berkeley, and later served as Secretary of the Air Force while U.S. planes were being used by the Indonesian military to bomb its civilian population. He has, as Barry Goldwater put it in 1981, "participated in the design of most of our warheads," and thus has intimate knowledge of the players and the game in the international weapons industry.
Mark even brags that using universities to subsidize research for multinational corporations will provide "political stability" to countries like El Salvador, South Korea and Taiwan. But his kind of political stability results in bloodbaths like the one the U.S.-backed government is currently waging in El Salvador, in defense of land and capital owned by these same multinationals. What he really means is that exporting American jobs to Third World countries will ease the pain when Central American farmers are stripped of their land and herded into the cities. Mark's presence makes the University a virtual homing beacon for the nation's major weapons producers and high-tech moguls.
Another notorious figure connected with UT and the local defense industry is Adm. Bobby Inman, former Director of MCC (see above), and now a CEO of Westmark Co., a holding company for defense contractors. High-tech enthusiasts may hail MCC as a boon to the Austin economy, but thirteen of MCC's original 21 members were among the nation's 100 largest defense contractors - all but one of the companies currently holds defense contracts - and many of them sell arms to repressive Central American governments.
George Kozmetsky, profiled on page 3 of this Polemicist, sits on the board of Litton, a major nuclear weapons producer that also participates in arms sales to El Salvador. He's also a co-founder and director of Teledyne, an electronics firm with military ties.
The connections become absolutely insidious. Board of Regents member Jess Hay also sits on the board of Exxon, while John Bookoutof the UT-System chancellor's council sits on the board at Shell, U.S.A. Both these companies have gross earnings many times that of Nicaragua's GNP, and maintain extensive holdings in Central America. When President Bush speaks of "defending American interests," it's these companies' holdings he's talking about. The decision-makers at the highest levels of UT not only support Central American repression in the abstract, many profit from it directly.
Similarly, Gov. Bill Clements recently appointed the former general manager of Austin's Lockheed Missiles to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Does building missiles qualify a person to make policy for universities? It does in Texas.
The war economy of 1989 differs greatly from that of 1942. Then, the European threat was real and immediate, and U.S. rallied to avert a potential international catastrophe.
Europe of 1989 is a different place. West Germany, once a vicious aggressor, is now a U.S. ally. East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary are presently rising up in one of the greatest displays of democracy in modern times. Meanwhile, the United States - with the support of universities like ours - continues to fund murderous, unpopular regimes like El Salvador's.
Thus our universities, once dedicated to promoting humane ideals, have become the wellspring of intellectual and physical capital for a military order that's been utterly drained of any moral purpose.