Resurgent Militarism in Academia

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email

Resurgent Militarism in Academia

by The Berkeley Study Group

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 13, No. 4, July/August 1981, p. 5–7, 32–34

The constant activity which you. . . display in your famous arsenal suggests to the studious mind a large field for investigation.

—Galileo Galilei

Thus wrote Galileo Galilei on the opening page of his work which marks the beginning of modern science, the Two New Sciences (1638). It is not surprising that Galileo’s new science was motivated by military interest, for western science and military interests have always been entwined; what changes is the degree of entanglement. This article reviews U.S. military involvement in basic science and technology, with emphasis on how this involvement has changed over the past two decades. It is now apparent that a concerted effort is underway to strengthen the relationship, with important effects on the nature and practice of science and technology in the United States.

The first government support for science and technology—the War Department’s sponsorship of the Lewis and Clark expedition in the early 1800s—arose from a desire to press scientific enterprise into the service of western expansionism. Further government involvement was similarly tied to military considerations: the National Academy of Science was chartered in 1863 to provide scientific and military advice to the government during the Civil War, the National Research Council was first formed in 1916 to mobilize scientific resources for the First World War, and the National Science Foundation followed from relations cultured during World War II.

Paralleling these developments, specific military organizations were formed to conduct and contract research and development for military interests. With the Corps of Engineers stationed at West Point, Jefferson initiated the first military academy. The Naval Observatory was created during the Civil War, the Naval Research Laboratory was founded shortly after World War I, and by 1941 the Navy established its Research and Development Board. An outgrowth of this Board, the Office of Research and Inventions was the first military organization empowered to fund and supervise external contracts for research. By 1946, “In recognition of its paramount importance as related to the maintenance of future naval powers and the preservation of national security,” the Office of Naval Research was authorized to “plan, foster, and encourage scientific research.”

Today, the primary research-contract responsibilities of the Department of Defense (DOD) are shared by the Army, the Navy, the Air Force,1 and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Together with the DOD laboratories, these agencies annually control over half a billion dollars of basic research funds. For all research and development activities the DOD currently spends about $17 billion per year. Science and technology in the United States is geared toward federal support, and that source of support has long been dominated by the Department of Defense.

Ebb And Flow

DOD sponsored research came under heightened academic scrutiny during the Vietnam War. Spurred into militancy against scientists who worked closely with the Pentagon, critical scientists began organizing into effective political forces, such as Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action (which became Science for the People). At conferences and on campuses, students and co-workers challenged academic participation in military research and confronted the scientific consultants to the Pentagon, like the notorious Jason group. Congress soon passed the Mansfield Amendment, legislation specifically designed to constrain DOD research to those projects which could demonstrate a “direct and apparent” relationship to military interests. For a time, military work was sequestered out of universities or into a more obvious relation with academic activities, thereby facilitating scrutiny of the moral and political issues at stake.

The controversy over academic complicity in military affairs began to fade in the mid 1970s, following the defeat of the U.S. in Vietnam and the turning of many progressive people toward single issues such as nuclear power, nuclear weapons, health care, agriculture, and occupational health and safety. Federal research support began to fall in real dollars, sending researchers scrambling for funds. Meanwhile the Pentagon was concerned about the curtailment of its control over long-term research development. It was in this context that a renewal of intimacy between academia and military officials ensued, led by the Pentagon’s George Gamota, Director for Research in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

In a 1980 AAAS Symposium entitled, “How Much Does the Defense Department Advance Science?”, Gamota summarized the past history and the present state:

The Department [of Defense] is proud of its relationships to the university community, a relationship that was strong and healthy up through the early sixties. In the mid-1960s and early 1970s, a number of factors caused a weakening of the working relationship that existed between the DOD and the scientific and engineering communities. We are now working to repair those relationships.2

The revitalization of Pentagon ties to academia is forging ahead in several directions: renewed direct and indirect funding for military projects, enhanced long-term military-academic relationships and interdependencies, and nurturance of a cadre of academic consultants and special-study groups.

Defense Dollars

One of the most direct indications of increasing military involvement in science and technology is reflected in funding figures. By the mid 1970s, DOD support for basic research had fallen in constant dollars by nearly 50% from its peak 1965-66 level. Since then, however, it has steadily risen in constant dollars by about 8% per year, totaling over $500 million for 1981. For all research and development (R&D) the statistics are even more staggering. Nearly $17 billion, or about 10%, of the entire DOD budget for 1981 (near $160 billion) is earmarked for R&D. The military dwarfs all other R&D recipients of federal funds, with space, health, and energy all receiving less than $6 billion each. Not only is the Pentagon the single largest source of R&D funding, but it is also the fastest growing source, increasing by 20% from 1980 to 1981.

(Source: Office of Science and Technology Policy)

And this represents only the direct Pentagon control of R&D funds; substantial military funds are hidden within other budgets. For example, several billion dollars of the Department of Energy budget is for nuclear weapons R&D and for Navy reactor design; part of the budgets of the National Institute of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services are devoted to medical R&D for the military; the National Science Foundation shares funding with the DOD on joint research projects; and at least one third of the $3 billion allocated this year for the space shuttle is slated for military efforts. (See “The Basic Economics of ‘Rearming America’ ” in this issue for less conservative figures.)

At these levels, the military controls 45% directly, and well over 50% both directly and indirectly, of all federal support for research and development in the United States.

Direct Military Ties

Beginning about 1976 the Pentagon made a purposeful effort to strengthen its direct ties to academia. In the following three years, while the Pentagon’s overall support of basic research increased by some 30%, its support of research in the universities increased by nearly 70%.3 In June 1978, the President’s science advisor, Frank Press, issued a report urging the Pentagon to expand its research program to create “a pool of research scientists in relevant fields, acquainted with DOD needs and potentially available to help on problems where technical contributions are part of the solution.” The report continues, “this communication provides members of the research community with access to potential users and with an opportunity for relaxed and understanding debate about radical new concepts of military application.”4 The panel which wrote this report was composed of major agency heads, major weapons manufacturers and top university representatives (see the box on the panel membership). They concluded,

Though the basic research program is a principal source of new knowledge, new options, new technical concepts and whole new capabilities so important for the future strength of any first order armed services, it is now substantially below the level needed to meet DOD needs and well below the full potential of the research community to provide valuable contributions. There is now a new policy to reverse this decline and to increase the basic research budget in constant dollars over the next few years. The Panel welcomes and applauds that reversal and believes that if properly administered it will make possible the quality and excellence essential to the research needed to maintain the strength of the United States armed forces. [emphasis added]5

In addition to funding and policy directives, the DOD has initiated new liason programs with scientists and scientific institutions to encourage research in directions of its own interest and provide assistance in framing fundable research proposals. The Navy, for example, invited researchers in May of 1974 to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco as part of a new University Laser Research Program:

To assist in acquainting as many university and faculty members as possible with these support opportunities, a colloquium will be held. . . to describe in some detail the areas of ARPA’s research interest and to set forth examples of university-type research programs which have successfully contributed to ARPA’s mission. After the colloquium, ONR and ARPA representatives will be available for informal discussions regarding possible research proposals.6

In the summer of 1979 the DOD launched a new major effort of this kind, with a series of twelve bimonthly research symposia held at the National Academy of Sciences.

Indirect Military Ties

The Pentagon fosters dependency in less direct ways as well, including funding of military projects through other federal agencies, supporting long-term interagency joint projects, and maintaining academic consultants. The President’s Science Advisory panel was careful to point out in its report, “In some areas activities of other agencies may remove much of the financial burden from the DOD (for example, much of the support of advances in medical knowledge may be funded by HEW) . . . ” In addition to the Department of Energy’s primary responsibility for nuclear weapon R&D and Navy reactor design, many other ostensibly civilian DOE programs have a strong military component, such as the development of synthetic fuels and inertial fusion apparatus (see the “Laser Fusion” article in this issue). The National Science Foundation is presently engaged in joint programs with the DOD in integrated circuit research and development. These are merely some examples of what military representatives refer to as “the strong bonds and cooperative relationships that exist between the DOD and other federal agencies concerned with the advancement of science.”7

A major Pentagon emphasis is on nurturing relations with prominent research institutions and leading research scientists. “Obviously, we also work very hard in trying to place our bets on the best people in their fields,” Gamota has said. He also points out that over the past decade, 20 North Americans who received the Nobel prize did their prize-winning work while supported by the Pentagon.

One of the largest and strongest military-academic joint programs has been in electronics. As far back as 1945 the DOD initiated the Joint Services Electronics Program (JSEP) with a mission going beyond new research and development, to create centers of research that would depend upon and fully involve the military:

The Idea of JSEP grew up within the DOD and academia to help keep the channel of communication between them open and to continue to use their scientific ingenuity for defense. The premise was to build up large university graduate centers around skilled researchers who not only were working on the frontiers of science but were also cognizant of the defense needs of the nation. . . The hallmark and focal point, however, for all JSEP programs has always been and will continue to be a dedicated researcher who also has the rare talents to be able to perceive DOD needs and to manage an active ongoing re-search program. At present, in JSEP we have 14 programs in 13 schools. [emphasis added]8

The academic-military relationship in electronics has continued to the present. According to the New York Times in May 1980,

Already, major universities that were once the seats of the antiwar movement, such as Cornell, M.I.T., Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, are elbowing one another to get a piece of the $200 million that Congress recently authorized the Pentagon to spend over the next five years for its very-high-speed integrated circuits program.9

Seeking “to closely tie the resultant products to high-priority military system requirements,” the Pentagon continued to court the universities, and those responsible for the universities make sure they remain competitively attractive. For example, in January of this year California Governor Jerry Brown proposed that $2.5 million of public funds be spent to upgrade the microelectronics research facility at U.C. Berkeley. Here was a way to prepare the facility for new federal funds: a $8.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation given only as part of a joint research project with a $7.9 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Elite DOD Consultants

The Pentagon uses the services of a variety of scientific and technological consultants, recruited largely from the academic community. “In some sense one can tell much about the status of an institution by the collegial associations of its staff,” reports Alan Berman, Director of Research at the Naval Research Laboratory. “Typically at NRL at any given time we have about 200 tenured university faculty members who are spending their sabbatical leaves with us or their summer vacations.”10

Dozens of advisory committees have been established by the Pentagon to bring the best academic and industrial talent to focus on both immediate and long-range problems of interest to the military. Compatibility with the aims of the DOD is a requirement for membership, as is technical expertise; such membership is a vital part of the career plan for those who aspire to leadership in the technical and academic professions. Only after advisors have shown their worthiness in lower level advisory committees may they be advanced to the more powerful bodies: the Scientific Advisory Boards for the Army, Navy, and Air Force; and the Defense Science Board. Other science advisory panels that select reliable academic scientists to study various military problems are frequently set up by the DOE, the National Academy of Sciences, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. One of the oldest and most notorious of such groups is Jason.

An elite group made up mostly of academic physicists, Jason provides consulting services for the Pentagon. Membership is by invitation, and participants meet during the summer to critique DOD projects. While much of their work is kept under wraps, the Pentagon Papers revealed their role in the creation and promotion of the “electronic battlefield” strategy in Vietnam.11 Although the group fell into disrepute by the early 1970s, owing to its involvement in the Vietnam War, there are indications the recruitment of young scientists has increased recently and membership is again growing.

Much of Jason’s recent work has been on new technologies of strategic nuclear weaponry and anti-submarine warfare. As the activities of long-time participant Richard Garwin illustrate, Jason members use the Pentagon to publicize their own ideas, meanwhile endorsing all the basic premises and goals of the military. Garwin has been travelling around the country the past few years with a typical Jason-like analysis of the MX missile system. First he picks away at all the flaws in the land-based system to demonstrate that it is wasteful and ill-conceived; then he goes into a showman’s song and dance about his system—instead of having the missiles scrambled within a railroad maze, he proposes that they be deployed in miniature submarines throughout coastal waters. Liberal Jason members explain how this is a “better” system for arms control because it is ultimately more stabilizing. Yet Garwin points out that new NA VST AR guidance systems will make his sub-launched missiles just as accurate (i.e., effective as counterforce weapons) as the land-based MX. Thus scientists who view themselves as good liberals see their work as a moderating force within the DOD, while the Pentagon uses them for its own purposes.

Retraining The Military

Attempts at curbing military involvement in scientific and technological development have met with limited success. The Mansfield Amendment, passed into law as part of military procurement authorization for 1970, was a specific piece of legislation designed to limit the breadth and depth of DOD involvement in basic research. Today the Mansfield Amendment is ignored. Its transformation over the last decade shows how reforms can be whittled away and ultimately forgotten as political conditions change.

In its original form the amendment stated, “None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act may be used to carry out any research project or study unless such project or study has a direct and apparent relationship to be a specific military function or operation.” This requirement of DOD funding had a significant, immediate impact on Pentagon support of basic research, forcing the DOD to perform much more of its work in-house. DOD was required to justify its funding and specify the purposes for the work, while researchers could not dodge the fact that by law their research had a “direct and apparent” relationship to the work of the Pentagon.

When the full impact of this legislation was realized it was quickly replaced with something more manageable. In subsequent legislation the phrase “a direct and apparent relationship” was replaced with “in the opinion of the Secretary of Defense, a potential relationship.” Even then, Pentagon support of research was curtailed in the early 1970s. However, President Carter’s March 1979 message to Congress and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown’s May 1979 policy memorandum gave a new interpretation to the term ‘potential relationship’, emphasizing that basic research was an important element of national security and of long-term interest to DOD. Within this interpretation all research may be considered potentially useful to the military and therefore fundable within the “confines” of the Mansfield Amendment.12

By 1980 Gamota could safely say,

There is absolutely nothing in the act which touches upon the loss of ability of the Defense Department to support basic research. The act only infers that as a mission agency DOD should sup-port work that has a potential relationship to its mission. And, since its mission is very broad, only the availability of funding and the level of interest of the agencies determines the spectrum of research support possible within the context of the DOD mission. Let me emphasize something that is very important, because as I travel through the country and talk to academic people the first question I get is, Well, hasn’t the Mansfield amendment stopped you from supporting basic research? And the answer is, No, absolutely not.13

Challenging Militarism

Resurgent militarism in academia pervades the fundamental character of science and technology in the United States. The purpose of Pentagon cultivation is now apparent. Entire institutions and research pro-grams, lineages of teachers and students, and even such subtleties as researcher interest and expertise, all have become inculcated into the military mindset. The purpose of the Joint Services Electronics Program, “to built up large university graduate centers around skilled researchers … cognizant of defense needs” and “able to perceive DOD needs,” has succeeded. Thus not only do scientists help to develop technologies of destruction and terrorism, but they have vested interests in preparing, planning and waging war. The vitality of their own research becomes tied to the vitality of the military and its perpetual drive for more and better.

The Pentagon fosters dependency by providing an entire career package: monetary rewards are provided through funding of research programs and large consultant fees; career advancement is facilitated by DOD-sponsored workshops and DOD-based collegial relations; and status is enhanced by selective participation on advisory panels and access to classified information. In these ways the military mindset becomes a way of life and self-identification.14

Direct attacks on this career package and on the military mindset resulted in retrenchment of academic-military relations during the later part of the Vietnam War. The Mansfield Amendment, for example, cut away at the economic base by constraining funding, and diminished status by clearly identifying DOD support with military purpose. Public, student, and peer censure of researchers working alongside DOD, lowered the status of such work, and politicized some people about the real interests DOD research serves. For example, the Jason group had a hard time recruiting new members for much of the 1970s, and some of the more liberal members stopped participating.

As the effectiveness of the Mansfield Amendment was whittled away and as direct political challenges faded away, the militarists could and did set to work again, bringing us back to where we are today. The Vietnam War experience reveals how the fight should be renewed. The Pentagon’s economic control of science and technology, the career base in the military, the status of military identification—each must be challenged in public and in the workplace. And basic to all of this, the military mindset, which means the political-economic context of militarism in the U.S., must also be challenged.

Finally, the failure of previous reforms to hold back the resurgence of militarism indicates that these challenges are not enough. It is also essential to continue the battle to its natural conclusion: a substantive transformation of the political-economic relations of science and technology in the United States.

The most effective way to mount such challenges is to organize politically across the boundaries between scientists and nonscientists, as well as between those inside and outside the universities. In some ways the present political climate of the nation—as exemplified by Reagan priorities and his apparent poularity—makes this a difficult uphill battle; but these same policies, with their heightened push towards war and their economic squeeze on all outside the military-industrial sector, help to fertilize the soil from which this opposition can grow.

The Berkeley Study Group is composed of members of Science for the People and the University of California, Berkeley, community. This article was prepared by Ross Flewelling and Charles Schwartz.

>> Back to Vol. 13, No. 4<<


  1. The army Research Office (ARO), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).
  2. George Gamota, “Why Basic Research in DOD?” In Proceedings of an AAAS Symposium on January 8, 1980: How Much Does the Defense Department Advance Science?, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C., September 24, 1980, p. 5.
  3. Ibid., p. 6.
  4. “Basic Research in the Department of Defense—A Report of the Science Advisor’s Panel on Basic Research in the Department of Defense,” Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, D.c:, June 22, 1978, p. 4.
  5. Ibid., p. iv.
  6. Letter from Fred. W. Quelle, Jr., Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research, Boston, Mass., to Professor [deleted], University of [deleted], May 14, 1974.
  7. George Gamota, op. cit., p. 7.
  8. Ibid., p. 4.
  9. New York Times, May 13, 1980, p. C1.
  10. Alan Berman, “DOD In-House Basic Research” In Proceedings of an AAAS Symposium on January 8, 1980: How Much Does the Defense Department Advance Science?, Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C., September 24, 1980, p. 10.
  11. “Science Against the People,” Berkeley SESPA, P.O. Box 4161, Berkeley, Calif. 94704, December 1972; Deborah Shapley, “Jason Division: Defense Consultants Who Are Also Professors At-tacked,” Science, February 2, 1973, p. 459; Charles Schwartz, “Professors in the Pentagon” and “Jason II”, Berkely SESPA, P .0. Box 4161, Berkeley, Calif. 94704, February 1974.
  12. For history and effects of the Mansfield Amendment, see Rodney Nichols, “Mission-Oriented R&D,” Science, April2, 1971, p. 29; Stanton Glantz and Norman Albers, “Department of Defense R&D in the University,” Science, November 22, 1974, p. 706; and John Walsh, “Pentagon Plans Boost for Basic Research,” Science, August 10, 1979, p. 566.
  13. George Gamota, op. cit., p. 5.
  14. Herbert York, the first director of the Lawrence Livermore weapons laboratory, identifies the factors influencing his decision as a scientist to work on the hydrogen bomb project: belief in a growing cold war, lack of access to secret documents opposing the project, the opportunity to work with “the greatest men of contemporary science”, and the sheer challenge of working a new scientific problem. See Herbert York, The Advisors: Oppenheimer, Teller, and the Superbomb, San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Co., 1976, p. 126.