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Desperation at Holyoke

The scene has thoroughly changed. The late September anti-war demonstration comes at a time when nation-wide support for the War on Iraq plummets. Calls for a troop withdrawal escalate among the political elite, as the warmongers shift their rationale for the war shamelessly. We went there to prevent a 9/11; if we leave it might provoke a 9/11. The shadow of 9/11 is itself being overrun by the floodwaters of Louisiana. General George Casey, son of another General George Casey of Cambodia, announced in late September that the troop cutbacks hinted at in the Spring would not happen, as the “situation has changed a little bit.” The “little” here refers to the massive upsurge of resistance attacks: the US strategy appears to be to isolate the mainly Sunni resistance, and thereby create the basis for a general religio-ethnic civil war. Let the natives fight among themselves, and soon the only justification needed for the imperial forces to remain is that they must play umpire. Such is the unique logic of colonial rule: divide et impera, divide and conquer.

No longer the confidence of popularity. Now the Boy-Emperor’s swagger seems tired. But there is no slackness in the will of the warmongers. Recruitment is done for the planetary bloodletting. Among the working-class there is now little care for the shibboleths of patriotism, when the only thing that seems to matter to the political and economic elite is the patriotism of the bottom line. The Generals are nervous, and the ante is up.

At Holyoke Community College (HCC), in Holyoke, Massachusetts, one of the many educational institutions that cater mainly to the working-class, the iron fist flew through the velvet glove. On Thursday, September 29, 2005, the Army National Guard sent its recruiters to the campus, where the student Anti-War Coalition met them. According to a statement by the college authorities, the altercation between the recruiters and the anti-war protestors created a disruption in the cafeteria and led to “an escalating display of emotions.” Campus security intervened, and, again according to the college authorities, “the anti-war group chose to ignore [a student code of conduct] we had established to ensure the safety of all, and endangered the safety of the recruiters, students and others present.” The campus cops hit a student with pepper spray, and the state police showed up. Arrests followed, as did the subsequent retaliatory punishment against one student, sophomore Charles Peterson.

The college conveniently avoided any mention of the Campus Republicans, who came in force to back the recruiters, and according to Peterson, who was sprayed by the cops, the Republican Youth went berserk and started to assault the anti-war protestors. When the state cops appeared, they came in full battle gear, ready to create Falluja in Holyoke. Some students report that the state police pointed guns at them.

Keep in mind that in June 2003, an HCC student, James Lacey committed suicide after he returned from his “tour of duty” in Iraq. At the memorial service for Lacey, his friend from HCC and fellow veteran, Sean Lamory pointed out that the reservists and National Guard are bearing the burden of the Iraq War. They “join the military for free college and benefits,” he said, not because they are especially patriotic. (In September 2005, the Educational Policy Institute released a report on student debt that showed how much of a burden it is for US college students – who pay market rates on their student loans. ROTC makes financial, if immoral, sense in this vise). Lamory went on, “I see it right here at HCC, a school where a lot of students struggle financially and come out of class to see a fancy Hummer, surrounded by Marines in full-dress uniforms making all sorts of promises.” This is the context for the animosity among many students at places like HCC against the military recruiters.

The violence is a sign of desperation: a similar incident occurred the same day at George Washington University, when the police went after Tariq Khan, an air force veteran, who stood before the army recruiting station with a sign, “Recruiters tell Lies.” He was violently removed from the scene. This violence is also visible in the way the recruiters went among the refugees of Hurricane Katrina, before FEMA officials. They are vultures who feast on tragedy. The recruiters in the Astrodome are matched only by the fetid provision in the No Child Left Behind Act that automatically collects the names and addresses of under-age children for military recruiters.

As consent slips away, we learnt from Gramsci, coercion begins its ugly march into the light. We might be at this stage.

But there are still some tasks before us. The Anti-War Coalition, at HCC, has produced four unimpeachable demands:

(1) An immediate, unconditional public apology from the college.

(2) A pledge of non-retaliation against the activists involved.

(3) A thorough and impartial investigation into these incidents.

(4) That the military recruiters not be allowed back to our college, as their actions and those of the military discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, in violation of Massachusetts law and college policy. Furthermore, the military is engaging in an economic draft against working class and poor people in an attempt to buttress this nation’s illegal war against Iraq.

Call Dr. William Messner, President of HCC at 413-552-2222. Show him that we can put as much pressure on him as the establishment has already done.

VIJAY PRASHAD teaches at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. His latest book is Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare (Boston: South End Press). His essay, “Capitalism’s Warehouses”, appears in CounterPunch’s new book, Dime’s Worth of Difference. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu

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Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

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