BY MATTHEW PETTI
VICE Magazine recently conducted an investigation on campus militarization, publishing the results in an article called “There Are the 100 Most Militarized Universities in America.” The Johns Hopkins University ranked number seven. The authors claimed to use a variety of variables to determine “the closest relationships with the national security state, and profit the most from American war-waging.” Whether you agree with the authors’ methodology or not, this description of the University’s role in contemporary American society would definitely disappoint its founder, Johns Hopkins, who grew up in a Quaker home and was raised with pacifist beliefs. In addition, the closed nature of military research performed on campus hurts the University’s mission “to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world.”
We’ve probably all heard at some point that Hopkins is “America’s first research university.” However, we’re rarely taught about the University’s namesake, other than the fact that he had an extra “S.” Johns Hopkins, born in 1795, was raised a Quaker and continued to adhere to Quaker philosophy throughout his life. Much of his famous philanthropy was due to the ideology of the Society of Friends. For those of you who don’t know much about Quakers (or “the Society of Friends,” as they call themselves), they’re not manufacturers of oatmeal. Quakerism is a religious movement that emphasizes a personal religious experience and equality between people. As a result, Quakers have been famous for their refusal to participate in war and slavery — which makes it all the more perverse that a university named for a Quaker is now an integral part of the machinery of warfare.
A casual observer may not guess that Johns Hopkins of all places ranks alongside such schools as American Military University in terms of “militarization.” After all, we’re a school known more for twitchy-eyed pre-meds. However, our institutional and informal connections with the military are very strong. The University receives more than half a billion dollars — $649,571,000 to be exact — from the Department of Defense to conduct military research. Most of this money goes to the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). While APL conducts some outer space research, its main purpose is “defense” research, which really means developing weapons, from nuclear submarines to NSA data collection algorithms.
Beyond APL, the Johns Hopkins undergraduate and graduate programs funnel a lot of talent into the military-industrial complex. It’s not just ROTC, which isn’t out of the ordinary for a large university or particularly large for an ROTC program; Hopkins ranked as ninth in the country for “national security employment,” which is determined by the number of graduates who end up in a job that requires a Top Secret clearance or higher. Johns Hopkins University is a leader in recruiting young minds and bodies for the military and intelligence apparatus — which is not a title it should be proud of, especially when there is much more pressing and socially useful work for young engineers, doctors and statesmen. As anti-war activists often say, “You can’t eat a bomb.”
It could be argued that Mr. Hopkins would not be opposed to all involvement in the military on principle since he gave material support to the Union during the Civil War. But Hopkins’s support for the Union Army bears little relevance to any debate over the state of his namesake today.
The Civil War was both an existential threat to America, and more importantly, an opportunity to do away with slavery in North America once and for all; As Mike Field wrote for The Gazette in May 1995, Hopkins was raised an “abolitionist before the word was even invented.” The interventions of the modern U.S. military are nothing like the war Hopkins supported.
The present dangers faced by the American people are not of the kind that APL’s research can fix. Nor is there the kind of moral urgency that justified Hopkins’ assistance during the Civil War; The U.S. government often finds itself fighting for a faction one day and fighting against it the next. Niall Ferguson wrote for Foreign Affairs in 2005 that America’s wars are “more like the colonial warfare the British waged 100 years ago.” Even if you believe that the American military keeps the world stable, it would be quite a stretch to say that a Quaker abolitionist would be enthusiastic about creating peace by force of arms. As many members of the Society of Friends argue, inequality and racism are much greater threats to peace than terrorism, and the billions of dollars spent on military research are billions of dollars diverted from defending against ignorance and poverty.
And even if it necessary to develop weapons and recruit intelligence agents — why is this being done at a civilian research university?
Alan Dershowitz’s speech at the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium has brought the debate on academic freedom to Hopkins. While much of the “free speech debate” is focused on student activists, the real elephant in the room is the presence of federal government funding. While funding given by an impartial body like the National Institute of Health might not have a major effect on education, something like the Applied Physics Laboratory gives an unelected arm of government massive amounts of influence over the University. Much of the research done at APL is classified, which goes against the University’s mission of the free and open exchange of ideas. In fact, foreigners — including, until recently, our own President Daniels — are not allowed in certain buildings because of the nature of the research performed there. If it’s necessary to restrict access to military research, why is being performed at a private research university where 9.3 percent of the undergraduate body is foreign?
While we don’t have to become an explicitly Quaker institution just because Johns Hopkins originated as one, we should at least seek to improve the world in the ways Johns Hopkins would have envisioned. It might be necessary for someone to train officers and research means of making war, it’s not necessary for us as a university. There are plenty of institutions that already exist for this purpose. Beyond that, we have to decide what kind of values we promote as a university. Do we value regimentation and service for the State, or do we value “independent and original research”? Do we want to sequester “dangerous” information away, or do we want “to bring the benefits of discovery to the world”? If our answer to both is the former, then we might as well do away with the Hopkins name along with the Hopkins values.
If anyone is interested in continuing this discussion or participating in peace activism on campus, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Petti is an undecided freshman from Englewood Cliffs, N.J.