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Inviting War Criminals to campus, Common Ground and myth of unity

March 7, 2019

Next Week, the GVSU Hauenstein Center is hosting a lecture by former US General Wesley Clark.

In the GVSU promotional material I received in the mail, it states that Clark was a valedictorian at West Point and later a Rhodes Scholar. In addition, the GVSU mailer says that Clark was a 4 star general for 38 years in the US military serving as the Supreme Allied Commander with NATO and helped to write and negotiate portions of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement.

This all sounds rather impressive, well, it’s impressive if you think that the US military is a humanitarian force. While Clark was the Supreme Allied Commander with NATO, he was responsible for the US?NATO bombing in Kosovo, which knowingly resulted in civilian deaths, actions that are considered in the World Court as war crimes. For those who would like a source on Wesley Clark’s involvement with war crimes in Kosovo, I would encourage you to read Noam Chomsky’s book, The New Military Humanism: Lessons from Kosovo or check out this interview with Chomsky discussing the same topic. 

What is even more absurd than GVSU bringing former General Wesley Clark – a war criminal – to campus, is the topic that he plans to present. Again, according to the Hauenstein Center’s promotional material, Gen. Clark will present on the challenges of overcoming polarization in America. This lecture is part of the Hauenstein Center’s Common Ground Initiative.

So, GVSU is bringing a known war criminal to speak to the public and students about how the US can overcome the polarization that exists in the US. Interesting. First, how can someone who spent 38 years in the US military, who was directly involved in the bombing of civilians in Kosovo and who legitimizes the history of US military intervention all around the world, how can this person lecture us about how to overcome the current polarization in America?

Secondly, what is it about people who think we need to overcome polarization? I mean, I get it that people want to generally get along with others and the whole unity thing. It is interesting to me that quiet often when something tragic happens, people say that the most important thing for us to do now is to come together and show unity. Why?

For example, when the police kill another black person, people will often say that we need to come together as a community or a nation and demonstrate our unity. Not only do I find such a notion somewhat ridiculous, it dismisses the fact that the nation or the community is already polarized and it will remain so until we confront major systems of oppression.

Black people are killed by police because we have a system of white supremacy that infiltrates every institution. One could also argue that cops killing black people is also because of the economic systems of capitalism, hetero-sexism and patriarchy. Again, the country and our community is already deeply polarized and that is not going to change unless we dismantle these systems of oppression.

Look at the example of gun violence in the US. Last year, after the Parkland School shooting, people kept saying we need to come together as a county to make sure this doesn’t happen again. But here’s the ting……..there are a ton of businesses that manufacture guns who don’t care that those guns will be used to kill people. There are gun lobbyists who give lots of money to politicians to make sure that guns are not regulated too much. Then there are jails/prisons that employee a lot of people who get paid to house those with gun-related charges, along with “security” companies that make all kinds of gadgets to monitor the public, which also profits from a society that is deeply polarized.

Lastly, I’m not really interested in trying to figure out how we can be less polarized as a nation or a country. There will always be people and institutions that profit from the oppression and exploitation of other people. I’m more interested in being part of organizing people who will confront the systems of power and oppression that are the root causes of people not being able to live in peace. Instead of calls for a vague notion of unity, I’d rather have people who are willing to fight against oppression no matter what the risks are.

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