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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Intellectuals have responsibilities in times of war and militarization

A tremendous scandal recently unfolded at Harvard University involving a renowned scientist in the field of animal cognition whose research techniques and experiments have been charged with eight counts of “”scientific misconduct.”” These charges are in the vein of “”data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and research,”” according to a faculty letter from Harvard’s Dean of Arts and Sciences on Aug. 18. The scientist himself apologetically admits to a series of vague “”mistakes.”” Either way, both parties have agreed to some amount of wrongdoing and await hearings by various authorities for possible punitive measures that could include everything from “”involuntary leave, extra oversight, and restrictions on the ability to apply for grants and supervise students,”” as reported by the New York Times.

So much for being given over to slovenly science, in which this case shows the scientist will probably be held accountable. Now, what about questions of science regarding life and death of millions of people?

In a series of articles in the Harvard Crimson, published in March 2008, student muckraker Lois Beckett reviewed similar questions of responsibility and accountability, but extended them to the role of intellectuals in times of war, specifically the U.S. invasion of Iraq. As with many past U.S. wars, prominent Harvard intellectuals admittedly played a leading role in administering official support for, and justification of, the war. And there were some cases in which Harvard intellectuals uncomfortably understood the possible consequences of the war, but didn’t speak up because they didn’t want to seem unpatriotic among their peers, who shared similarly silent reservations.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq resulted in the destruction of human life comparable in number with the Rwandan Genocide and the Cambodian killing fields based on the September 2007 outstanding report by British polling agency ORB, the Opinion Research Business. The U.S. invasion resulted in roughly 1 million violent deaths.

In one of her articles, Beckett quotes Harvard’s prominent strategic analyst Graham Allison: “”In medicine, there’s medical malpractice. … In law, you can be disbarred. Well, how about in our business?”” Beckett writes, “”The answer, Allison said, is that there is no formal way of holding intellectuals responsible for their ideas, no matter how badly they get them wrong.””

Today, these considerations should remain front and center for students to bear in mind as we move through the detached matrix that is academia.

There’s one important distinction, however. Using words or phrases like “”getting it wrong”” or “”mistake”” or “”misconduct”” assumes that, in the U.S., we have the right to “”experiment”” on another country with a war whose disastrous consequences and inherent injustice are easily detectable by anyone, whether a Harvard intellectual or a local bus driver.

True, Harvard academicians could argue ­— as in usual misconduct cases — that they didn’t intend to help cause the murder and displacement of millions of people, being directly complicit in the crimes that resulted from the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But, as elementary legal and moral principles reflect, criminal responsibility is not judged by intention, but by the real or likely consequences of the act, or failure to act.

And serious precedents are not far off in history within American society.

At the International Criminal Tribunals at Nuremberg following World War II, U.S. justices applied these very standards to intellectuals of Nazi Germany: from Julius Streicher, editor of a leading newspaper, to Wolfram Sievers of the University of Strasbourg. Both cases were judged on the basis of the defendants’ prominent cultural, political and so-called “”scientific”” work and ideas which, wittingly or unwittingly, supported the vicious crimes perpetuated by the Nazis. And both intellectuals were hanged for them.

If we bothered to apply the same standards to ourselves, something we failed to do even at Nuremberg, regarding the war crimes of the allied forces such as the firebombing of civilian centers like Dresden and Tokyo and the nuclear obliterations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then perhaps the Harvard intellectuals, along with the policymakers in Washington, would face grave punishment.

Similarly, if we at the UA had the courage and integrity to judge ourselves with the very standards that we apply to others, then many of our professors would be called to the carpet in ways that proceed well beyond the possible scholarly “”sanctions”” that may await the Harvard scientist guilty of misconduct a few weeks ago.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union released a landmark report outlining the humanitarian crisis caused by U.S. policy along the border — militarization and so-called “”security”” and “”surveillance”” infrastructures, such as the border wall and virtual fences — that has caused more than 5,600 deaths since 1994.

Since 2008, the UA has been an institutional leader in the prestigious Department of Homeland Security-sponsored Center of Excellence for Border Security and Immigration, where the brightest minds of southwestern universities provide the state with the intellectual means needed to fulfill the U.S. policy that comes in the form of body bags overflowing the Pima County morgue. The project’s leaders are housed in the Eller College, with our very own professors being the leaders and helpers.

But, alas, cowardice is the path of least resistance for issues that often matter most. And unfortunately for us, the bulk of the history between scientists and the government in the United States sets the moral expectation exceedingly low. As a new generation of scientists and human beings, the question of how we, as students, will apply decent standards to our studies and work as they apply to the real world remains our choice, and ultimately, our responsibility.


— Gabriel Matthew Schivone is an undergraduate at Prescott College majoring in art, literature and media studies. He can be reached at

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