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Twenty years later, MIT still doing military research projects

A Crack in the Dome / Daniel J. Glenn

Recently a new display-case was built to fit in the staircase in Building 8, at the easternmost end of the Infinite Corridor. One day while wandering up that staircase I paused to look inside. The first thing I noticed were the golf club heads, each carefully posed like a golfer's trophy on a wooden base with a little sign stating: Metal Wood Golf Clubs. Pretty exciting stuff, I thought to myself, no wonder I never look in these things.

Next to the golf club heads lay a Rear Window Hinge -- Station Wagon, then a Guided Missile Control Fin, wait a minute, a guided missile control fin? Then, a Gunport, F18 Fighter, and next to that there was a Hinge Load for Battle Rocket. And finally, in the lower right hand corner, lay a Cluster-Bomb Wingshaft.

A bigger sign hung above the golf club heads and weapons parts that read: Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and the Hitchner Manufacturing Company, Inc.

I tried to imagine what students might tell their parents when they come upon this display while touring the halls around graduation:

"Look Mom, I'm gonna build a cluster-bomb!"

"Oh, how nice dear, what is that for?"

"They're anti-personnel weapons, designed to kill the maximum number of people on impact. You know Mom, the ones they've been using in El Salvador! They're like big hand grenades, except instead of shrapnel, they're filled with little bombs that fly out in all directions to get 'em while they're runnin'."

In the midst of the Vietnam War in spring semester of 1969, the newly formed Union of Concerned Scientists proposed a research stoppage at MIT to be held on March 4 to protest governmental misuses of science and technology and the academic community's involvement in war-related research.

The March 4 action led to a series of protests, headed by the Science Action Coordinating Committee (SACC), that resulted in the removal of classified research from campus, and in the creation of the Science, Technology and Society program at MIT. Nationally, the event sparked similar strikes around the country and was the beginning of a nationwide movement of scientists and engineers who began to push for the responsible use of technology.

Next week is the twentieth anniversary of this historic event. Unfortunately, military research is still very much a part of MIT. MIT is currently engaged in several hundred research projects for the Department of Defense. The following are examples of unclassified on-campus research (obtained from government research-contract documents by SACC) for the DOD: Department of Materials Science -- "hardening of integrated circuits to withstand nuclear attack"; Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences -- "target identification using infrared radar"; Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science -- "optical signal processing for missile guidance"; Department of Civil Engineering -- "arctic military facilities"; Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics -- "application of composite materials for Army helicopter blades"; Plasma Fusion Center -- "SDI space-based radar."

The following statement, signed in 1969 by 50 members of the faculty, is as relevant today as when it first appeared in The Tech two decades ago.

Union of Concerned Scientists Statement of Jan. 27, 1969:

Misuse of scientific and technical knowledge presents a major threat to the existence of mankind. Through its actions in Vietnam our government has shaken our confidence in its ability to make wise and humane decisions. There is also disquieting evidence of an intention to enlarge further our immense destructive capability.

The response of the scientific community to these developments has been hopelessly fragmented. There is a small group that helps to conceive these policies, and a handful of eminent men who have tried but largely failed to stem the tide from within the government. The concerned majority has been on the sidelines and ineffective. We feel that it is no longer possible to remain uninvolved.

We therefore call on scientists and engineers at MIT, and throughout the country, to unite for concerted action and leadership: Action against dangers already unleashed and leadership towards a more responsible exploitation of scientific knowledge. With these ends in mind we propose:

1. To initiate a critical and continuing examination of governmental policy in areas where science and technology are of actual or potential significance.

2. To devise means for turning research applications away from the present emphasis on military technology towards the solution of pressing environmental and social problems.

3. To convey to our students the hope that they will devote themselves to bringing the benefits of science and technology to mankind, and to ask them to scrutinize the issues raised here before participating in the construction of destructive weapons.

4. To express our determined opposition to ill-advised and hazardous projects such as the ABM system, the enlargement of our nuclear arsenal, and the development of chemical and biological weapons.

5. To explore the feasibility of organizing scientists and engineers so that their desire for a more humane and civilized world can be translated into effective political action.

As a first step towards reaching these objectives we ask our colleagues --faculty and students -- to stop their research actively at MIT on March 4 and to join us for a day devoted to examination of the present situation and its alternatives. On that day, we propose to engage in intensive public discussions and planning for future actions along the lines suggested above.

If you share our profound apprehension and are seeking a mode of expression which is at once practical and symbolic, join us on March 4.


Daniel J. Glenn, a graduate student in the Department of Architecture, is a columnist for The Tech.