July marks the 40th anniversary of the 1969 U.S. moon landing. President Obama celebrated the anniversary with the Apollo 11 crew by asserting that the U.S. would remain committed to space exploration and that his education reform is crucial to the work of NASA. Obama failed to mention that both NASA and the education system have served as vital gears in the bloody U.S. war machine for the past 50 years.
Obama’s call for education reform comes at a time when the dominant role the U.S. has played in the world since World War II is being threatened by the growth of imperialist rivals in China, Russia and Europe. Following the lead of educational reforms outlined by Bill Gates, Exxon and Lockheed Martin, a heavy emphasis on math and science in high school is seen as a way to keep the U.S. from falling further behind the curve of its technologically-advanced rivals.
In 1962 when John F. Kennedy declared that “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” the U.S. ruling class was much more certain of its place in the world than it is today. Anti-communism, and post-WWII prosperity for some, allowed U.S. rulers to bolster support for themselves against supposed communist threats abroad. Like Obama, JFK summoned the tools of the state — through the expansion of military programs and the reworking of the education system — in order to strengthen U.S. imperialist ambitions.
When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the U.S. ruling class in response created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). By promoting “space race” hype, the NASA program encouraged workers in the U.S. to root for “team America.” In 1969 U.S. astronauts planted a U.S. flag on the moon that was meant to be a symbol of their global power, but by this time the U.S. was hated around the world.
The Tet Offensive had turned the tide of the Vietnam War and rebellions of U.S. GIs were increasingly common. Unable to rely on its own soldiers, the U.S. became heavily dependent on carpet bombings, bringing the Vietnam War into its bloodiest phase. The bosses cover up this history to keep workers in the dark about capitalism’s bloody past and to spread patriotism so workers will support the bosses’ war plans.
The same year NASA was created, U.S. rulers created the Advanced Research Project Agency (now DARPA) to meet the research and development needs of the U.S. military. Over the next 50 years DARPA developed weapons ranging from the M-16 rifle which aided in the murder of countless Vietnamese during the Vietnam war to the Hellfire-missile-equipped Predator drones currently being used to kill and maim workers along the Pakistan border. DARPA initiatives paved the way for increasing technology-driven warfare and the eventual militarization of space.
The same year NASA and DARPA came into existence, Congress created the National Defense Education Act (NDEA). Aimed at creating a generation of tech-savvy workers able to compete with Soviet rivals, the NDEA included support for loans to college students, and the improvement of science and mathematics in schools. Hoping to win students to U.S. nationalism, students had to pledge anti-communism in order to receive college loans. Students involved in anti-war activities were punished and denied loan money.
The U.S. defeat in Vietnam signaled the beginning of the end for U.S. global dominance. In 1979, the loss of Iran as a Mid-East watchdog coupled with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan intensified the worries of U.S. rulers about their ability to control vital resources in the region. The rise of competing imperialist powers in Europe and Asia has only escalated tensions in the Mid-East. Obama has picked up the torch of imperialism where Kennedy, Carter and Clinton left off, deepening imperialist war in Afghanistan and carrying it over into Pakistan.
The appearance of Obama’s foreign policy may differ from his predecessors, but the essence remains the same: war and destruction of rivals are the only sure ways an imperialist power can stay on top. Obama & Co. understand the vital role the education system plays in their ability to wage war. It is no accident that Obama chose as his education czar Arne Duncan, who as CEO of Chicago public schools handed over control of four public high schools to the U.S. military.
While education reform is expected to produce a new crop of workers able to make the next generation of technologically-advanced weapons, the Obama administration realizes that this type of weaponry alone cannot win wars. U.S. rulers have adopted a boots-on-the-ground approach, recently deploying tens of thousands to Afghanistan and calling for thousands more. They are paving the way for future recruits though the creation of various national service programs and through standardized testing regimes that push students out of high school and into the military.
As workers’ cynicism and lack of patriotism persist along with the economic crisis, the bosses have amplified their call for sacrifice. The bosses aim to disarm workers by teaching patriotism and lies about the history of the working class. We must bring the message of revolution to the classrooms and workplaces and organize students and workers to fight against imperialist war under the banners of the Progressive Labor Party.