War Colleges

While there is an ongoing discussion about the increasing corporatization of higher education?extending from the attempted buying of faculty positions by  right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers to the increasing casualization of faculty labor and the commodification of knowledge, what is often left out of this analysis is the intrusion of the military into higher education. (1)

The culture of organized violence is one of the most powerful forces shaping American society, extending deeply into every aspect of American life. There can be little doubt that America has become a permanent warfare state. (2)

Not only is it waging a war in three countries, but its investment in military power is nearly as much as all of the military budgets of every other country in the world combined. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute states that “The USA’s military spending accounted for 43 per cent of the world total in 2009, followed by China with 6.6 per cent; France with 4.3 per cent, and the UK with 3.8 per cent.” (3)

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost Americans a staggering $1 trillion to date, second only in inflation-adjusted dollars to the $4 trillion price tag for World War II.” (4)

Pentagon spending for 2011 will be more than $700 billion. To make matters worse, as Tom Englehart points out, “We dominate the global arms trade, monopolizing almost 70% of the arms business in 2008, with Italy coming in a vanishingly distant second.  We put more money into the funding of war, our armed forces, and the weaponry of war than the next 25 countries combined (and that’s without even including Iraq and Afghan war costs).” (5)

Moreover, the United States maintains a massive ring of military bases and global presence around the world, occupying “over 560 bases and other sites” (6) and deploying over 300,000 troops abroad, “even as our country finds itself incapable of paying for basic services.” (7)

In spite of how much military expenditures drain desperately needed funds from social programs, the military budget is rarely debated in Congress or made a serious object of discussion among the public. Not only does the United States squander its resources and human lives on foreign wars, we ignore facing  “the realities and costs of war” at home.  (8)

As a central element of domestic and American foreign policy, the social costs of such wars are rarely subject to debate and largely endorsed by a pliant and conformist media. NBC Nightly News, for example, provides unproblematic representations of war narratives almost nightly, reducing such narratives to human interest stories while simultaneously depoliticizing the meaning and purpose of war and organized state violence.   War is now normalized even as the United States becomes more militarized, moving closer to being a national security state at home and an imperial/policing power abroad.  One consequence of the increasing militarization of American society can be seen in changes that have taken place in public and higher education.

Schools have become the testing grounds for new modes of security and military-style authority, treating students as if they were largely detainees subject to a range of egregious disciplinary practices ranging from repressive zero tolerance policies to the criminalization of what is often considered trivialinfractions such as dress code violations.  The war at home is most obvious in the ways in which young people marginalized by class and color are now largely seen as a disposable populations, whose behaviors are largely governed through a youth crime complex. In fact, in cities such as Chicago, military academies have become the institutions of choice in dealing with students marginalized by race and class. School for many young people has become simply a pipeline into the criminal justice and correctional system. In fact, a few years ago two judges in Luzerrne County, in Northeastern Pennsylvania accepted over $2.6 million in kickbacks for sentencing hundreds of kids to a for-profit, privately owned juvenile detention center. (9)

Since the tragic events of 9/11, state-sanctioned violence and the formative culture that makes it possible has increasingly made its way into higher education. While there is a long history of higher education taking on research funds and projects that serve the military-industrial complex, such projects were often hidden from public view. When they did become public, they were often the object of student protests and opposition, especially during the 1960s.  What is new today is that more research projects in higher education than ever before are being funded by various branches of the military, but either no one is paying attention or no one seems to care about such projects.

Ethical and political considerations about the role of the university in a democratic society have given way to a hyper-pragmatism couched in the language of austerity and largely driven by a decrease in state funding for higher education and the dire lack of jobs for many graduates.  It is also driven by a market-centered ethos that celebrates a militant form of individualism, a survivalist ethic, a crass emphasis on materialism, and an utter disregard for the responsibility of others. As research funds dry up for programs aimed at addressing crucial social problems, new opportunities open up with the glut of military funding aimed at creating more sophisticated weapons, surveillance technologies, and modes of knowledge that connect anthropological concerns with winning wars.

Military modes of education largely driven by the demands of war and organized violence are investing heavily in pedagogical practices that train students in various intelligence operations. Programs such as the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program and the Intelligence Community Scholarship Programs disregard the principles of academic freedom and recruit students to serve in a number of intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, that have a long history of using torture, illegal assassinations, murder, running illegal prisons, and on occasion committing domestic atrocities?such as spying on Juan Cole, a prominent academic and critic of the Iraq War.  The increasingly intensified and expansive symbiosis between the military-industrial complex and academia is also on full display the creation of the “Minerva Consortium,” ironically named after the goddess of wisdom, whose purpose is to fund various universities to “carry out social sciences research relevant to national security.” (10)

As David Price has brilliantly documented, the CIA and other intelligence agencies “today sneak unidentified students with undisclosed links to intelligence agencies into university classrooms. A new generation of so-called flagship programs have quietly taken root on campuses, and, with each new flagship, our universities are transformed into vessels of the militarized state.” (11)  The Pentagon’s desire to turn universities into militarized knowledge factories producing knowledge, research, and personnel in the interest of the Homeland (In) Security State should be of special concern for intellectuals, artists, academics, and others who believe that the university should oppose such interests and alignments. Connecting universities with any one of the 15 US security and intelligence agencies replaces the ideal of educating students to be critical citizens with the notion of students as potential spies and citizen soldiers. (12) Pedagogy, in this instance becomes militarized.

At the very least, the emergence of the Minerva Consortium, the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program, and the Human Terrain System raises a larger set of concerns about the ongoing militarization of higher education in the United States. Disciplines such as anthropology, political science, psychology, and sociology are being tapped as resources to enhance new technologies and practices of violence. As a result of the increasing number of programs, university students no longer graduate with the aim of serving the common good. Instead, they end up in villages in Iraq and Afghanistan working as informers for the military, bringing their scholarship to bear on winning the “hearts and minds” of foreign populations for whom democracy becomes synonymous with war, torture, and foreign occupation.  Misled and miseducated psychologists and physicians assist in state sanctioned torture methods in order to keep detainees alive so they can continue to be tortured. (13)

There is more at stake here than the corruption of academic fields, faculties, and the overall ideal of the university as a democratic public sphere. There is the total transformation of the state from a liberal social state into a punishing state. The machinery of death is more than a technology; it is also driven by a formative culture that creates the knowledge, values, and practices that enable human beings to work in the service of violence and death. When the military increasingly becomes a model for shaping the most basic institutions of society?institutions ranging from public schools and industry to higher education?the ideals of democracy become a faint memory and American society plunges into barbarism on all fronts.

Further evidence of the increasing militarization of American society can be found in the dominant media, popular culture, fashion, and official politics. Violent video games, largely catering to young people, bring in billions of dollars in profits for Wal-Mart and the video game industry, while at the same time legitimating a culture of cruelty and violence. (14)  Soldier dolls such as G.I. Joe look tame compared to the current batch of video games which often appear to be modeled after slasher films on steroids. True to the increasing logic of privatization, private companies now offer military services for hire, treating their products as any other commodity for sale.   (15)

In a post-9/11 world, with its all encompassing celebration of war and state violence, the discourse and values of militarization both permeate the social order and increasingly  produce a shift from a welfare state to a militarized and punishing society.  Militarization suggests more than simply a militaristic ideal?with its celebration of war as the truest measure of the health of the nation and the soldier-warrior as the most noble expression of the merging of masculinity and unquestioning patriotism?but an intensification and expansion of the underlying values, practices, ideologies, social relations, and cultural representations associated with military culture.

The values of militarization are no longer restricted to foreign policy ventures; the ideals of war in a post-9/11 world have become normalized, serving as a powerful educational force that shapes our lives, memories, and daily experiences.  The military has become a way of life producing modes of education, goods, jobs, communication, and institutions that transcend traditional understandings of the geography, territory, and place of the military in American society. Military values, social relations, and practices now bleed into every aspect of American life.  What is distinctive about the militarization of the social order is that war becomes a source of pride rather than alarm, while organized violence is elevated to a place of national honor, recycled endlessly through a screen culture that bathes in blood, death, and war porn. As democratic idealism is replaced by the combined forces of the military-industrial complex, civil liberties are gradually eroded along with the formative culture in which the dictates of militarization can be challenged. Wars abroad also further accentuate the failure to address serious problems at home. As Andrew Bacevich points out, “Fixing Iraq or Afghanistan ends up taking precedent over fixing Cleveland and Detroit.” (16)

Cities rot, unemployment spreads, bridges collapse, veterans are refused adequate medical care, youth lack jobs and hope, and yet the permanent warfare state squanders over a trillion dollars waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Kevin Baker points out, “We now substitute military solutions for almost everything, including international alliances, diplomacy, effective intelligence agencies, democratic institutions?even national security….The logic is inexorable.” (17)  A primitive tribalism now grips society as our democratic institutions and public spheres become inseparable from the military.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the ongoing symbiosis between military power and values and higher education.  As higher education is weakened through an ongoing assault by right-wing ideologues, corporate power, and the forces of militarization, the very idea of the university as a site of critical thinking, public service, and socially responsible research is in danger of disappearing. This is especially true as the national security state, the Pentagon, and corporate power set their sites on restructuring higher education at a time when it is vulnerable because of a loss of revenue and a growing public disdain towards critical thinking, faculty autonomy, and the public mission of the university. Higher education has been targeted because when it aligns its modes of governance, knowledge production, and view of learning with the forces of organized capital and the mechanisms of violence and disposability, it makes a belief in militarized and commodified knowledge a fact of everyday life. Imposing new forms of discipline, affective investments, modes of knowledge, and values conducive to a public willing to substitute training for education, a militarized and corporatized mode of pedagogy removes  ethical considerations from the social and human costs produced by the market and the permanent warfare state. More specifically, higher education in this instance makes possible a belief in militarized and instrumental knowledge as a fact of life while legitimating those social processes “in which civil society organizes itself for the production of violence.” (18)

Millions of students pass through the halls of higher education in the United States. It is crucial that they be educated in ways that enable them to recognize the poisonous forces of corporatization and militarization, and their effects throughout American society. Particularly important is to understand how these effects threaten “democratic government at home just as they menace the independence and sovereignty of other countries.”   (19)

Both  students and the larger public must be alerted to the ways in which the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex has restructured higher education so as to dismantle it as a place in which to think critically, imagine otherwise, and engage in modes of knowledge production and research that address pressing social problems and encourage students to participate in public debate and civic engagement. (20)

But there is more at stake here than educating students to be alert to the dangers of militarization and the way in which it is redefining the very mission of higher education. Critics such as David Price, the late Chalmers Johnson, Sheldon Wolin, and Andrew Bacevich have convincingly argued that if the United States is to avoid degenerating into a military dictatorship, a grass roots movement will have to occupy center stage in opposing militarization, government secrecy, and imperial power, while reclaiming the basic principles of democracy. (21)

This means rejecting the established political parties; forming alternative, democratic, anti-militarization movements; and developing the groundwork for long-term organizations, new solidarities, and social movements  to resist the growing ties among higher education, the armed forces, intelligence agencies, and the war industries?ties that play a crucial role in reproducing militarized knowledge.

If higher education is to come to grips with the multilayered pathologies produced by militarization, it will have to rethink both the space of the university as a democratic public sphere and the global spaces and public spheres in which intellectuals, educators, students, artists, labor unions, and other social actors and movements can form transnational alliances to oppose the death-dealing ideology of militarization and its effects on the world. These effects include violence, pollution, massive poverty, racism, the arms trade, growth of privatized armies, civil conflict, child slavery, and the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. True to the logic of privatization, private companies now offer military services for hire, treating their products as any other commodity for sale. (22)

As the Obama regime embraces the policies of the Military-Industrial-Academic complex with unbridled fervor, it is time for educators and students to take a stand and develop global organizations that can be mobilized in the effort to supplant a culture of war with a culture of peace whose elemental principles must be grounded in relations of economic, political, cultural, and social justice and the desire to sustain human life.

The degree to which higher education is being handed over to the values of corporate and military power is alarming. At a time when democratic social relations, workers, students, and everything that can be termed public is under attack, it is crucial that higher education be viewed as a central site in the effort to keep alive institutions and a formative culture capable of educating students to struggle for democracy and against the technologies and machineries of death that appear to have a stranglehold on American society.  Power is never sutured, never complete in its attempt to eliminate struggle, collective resistance, and hope. We need a new language, formative culture, and range of public spheres to reclaim power in the interests of democratic struggles.

There is both a theoretical and a political issue at stake here.  Progressives and others on the left need to grasp the centrality of pedagogy to any viable understanding of politics. The struggle over ideas, values, identities, new modes of solidarity,  economic equality, and  democratic social relations will not guarantee change, but it is certainly a precondition for making politics meaningful in order to lead to social transformation. Pedagogy raises the question of what it means for the American public to understand militarism, neoliberalism, and other anti-democratic forces in ways that undo their self-evident and commonsense appeals. I think Michael Berube is right on target in arguing that one failure of the left has been its inability to tell a compelling story, to provide narratives that disrupt conventional and official modes of ideology. (23) Other factors might include a focus on single issue movements, a politics of purity, and an obsession with the language of critique to the exclusion of a discourse of hope and possibility.

Conservatives and neoliberals, by contrast, are no strangers to cultural politics. All one has to do is look at the proliferation of their think tanks, foundations, churches, and a variety of other institutions designed to educate their own cadre and overrun the media and government with their anti-public intellectuals. Actually, all one has to do in this case is to go back and read the Powell Memo produced in the early 1970s to get a glimpse of how prescient conservatives were about the importance of cultural politics. Of course, C.Wright Mills, Ellen Willis, and number of other theorists took seriously the nature of public pedagogy and cultural politics, but their voices were rarely heeded.  While progressives clearly cannot match the deep pockets of the right, they can certainly put more efforts into developing public spheres in which they nurture intellectuals and educate generations of young people both in and out of the university. The fight for justice and democracy is taking place all over the globe with a new intensity. And while there are enclaves of resistance in the United States now emerging in the face of an unapologetic attack on every vestige of democracy, we need to reclaim moral indignation, the power of collective agency, and the willingness to engage in civil disobedience. The left has been too timid in its reluctance to develop a public pedagogy that is critical, thoughtful, incisive, and courageous. It needs to take the moral high ground away from the right and fight with all of the tools at its disposal in order to create a new and critical formative democratic culture and set of public spheres.

The left must move away from the abyss of compromise and stake out alternative visions around health care, education, national priorities, the environment, civil rights, foreign policy, employment, national security, the social state, and the dismantling of the permanent warfare state. Put differently, progressives need to appropriate new strategies and build wide ranging alliances by giving credence to the tools and methods necessary to create critical modes of consciousness, literacy, and meaning. This suggests a deeper understanding is needed of the merging of the political and the pedagogical?a more complex rendering of the dangers of militarization and the limits of state power, and a critical mapping of the emergence of the symbiosis between the military and corporate state and what it means to dismantle this pernicious register of power.  We also need an understanding of what conditions are necessary to develop those formative cultures that enable people to translate private considerations into public issues along with a determined collective effort to wrench the old and new media away from the control of mega corporations and the pervasive discourse of celebrity and privatization. Public and higher education along with what C. Wright Mills called the cultural apparatus must be reclaimed as crucial pedagogical tools to fight the new militarism and culture of death that increasingly produce what the late Gil Scott Heron called “Winter in America.”

Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex” (2007) and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed” (2008). His latest book, Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability,” will be published by Paradigm Publishers in 2011.


1. I have taken up both the militarization and corporate influence on higher education in great detail in Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

2. Some of the more important literature on this transformation includes: Catherine Lutz, “Making War at Home in the United States: Militarization and the Current Crisis,” American Anthropologist 104:3 (2002), pp. 723-735; Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008);  Nick Turse, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008); Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008); and Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Rules: America’s Path To Permanent War (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010).

3. Home Research Database, “Recent Trends in Military Expenditure,” Stockholm International Peace Institute (November 23, 2010). Online at: http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex/resultoutput/trends

4. Elisabeth Bumiller, “The War: A Trillion Can Be Cheap,” New York Times (July 24, 2010), p. WK3.

5. Tom Engelhardt, “An American World War: What to Watch for in 2010,” TruthOut (January 3, 2010). Online at: http://www.truth-out.org/topstories/10410vh4

6. Nicholas D. Kristof, “The Big (Military) Taboo,” New York Times (December 25, 2010), p. WK16.

7. Chalmers Johnson, “The Guns of August: Lowering the Flag on the American Century,” TruthOut (August 17, 2010). Online at: http://www.truth-out.org/the-guns-august-lowering-flag-american-century62384

8. William J. Astore, “The Face of War (Don’t Look),” Asia Times (November 2, 2010).
Online at: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/LK02Ak01.html

9. Thomas Frank, “Lock ‘em Up: Jailing Kids is a Proud American Tradition,” Wall Street Journal (April 2, 2009). Online: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123854010220075533.html

10. Jeffrey Brainard,“U.S. Defense Secretary Asks Universities for New Cooperation,” Chronicle of Higher Education (April 16, 2008). Online at: http://chronicle.com/news/article/4316/us-defense-secretary-asks-universities-for-new-cooperation

11. David Price, “How the CIA Is Welcoming Itself Back Onto American University Campuses: Silent Coup,” CounterPunch (April 9-11, 2010). Online at: https://www.counterpunch.org/price04092010.html

12. David Price, “Obama’s Classroom Spies,” CounterPunch (June 23, 2009). Online: www.counterpunch.org/price06232009

13. See, for example, Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (New York: Anchor, 2009).

14. All of this is now legitimated by a recent Supreme Court Decision that welcomes the peddling of violent video games to young children. Of course, the real issue here has nothing to do with the First Amendment and everything to do with a business-friendly supreme court that wants to protect the profits being made by peddlers of violence and smut.

15.P. W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008).

16. Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Rules: America’s Path To Permanent War, (New York, N.Y.: Metropolitan Books, Henry Hold and Company, 2010) pp. 17-18.

17.Kevin Baker, “We’re in the Army Now: The G.O.P.’s Plan to Militarize Our Culture,” Harper’s Magazine (October 2003), p. 45.

18.Michael Geyer, “The Militarization of Europe, 1914?1945,” in The Militarization of the
Western World, ed. John R. Gillis (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989), 79.

19. Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004), p. 291.

20. See  Cary Nelson, “The National Security State,” Cultural Studies 4:3 (2004), pp. 357-361.

21. David Price, Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State (AK Press, 2011); Chalmers Johnson, Dismantling the American Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2011); and Bacevich, The New American Militarism.

22. P. W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008).

23. Michael Berube, The Left at War (New York: New York University Press, 2009).




Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014), The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2018), and the American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018), On Critical Pedagogy, 2nd edition (Bloomsbury), and Race, Politics, and Pandemic Pedagogy: Education in a Time of Crisis (Bloomsbury 2021). His website is www. henryagiroux.com.