Universities across the UK, including our own University of Glasgow, have been demonstrating their social conscience, by issuing statements condemning the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and declaring support for the Ukrainian people. This anti-war rhetoric and sympathy with those students affected by war was suspended earlier this week when an email was sent out to all staff at the College of Social Sciences and the College of Arts. This email, marking the passing of former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, celebrated her as “a formidable politician and a defender of women’s rights” and expressed gratitude for her kindness in giving her name to a PhD Scholarship in Czech Studies.
While many staff members who received this email were not surprised by the whitewashing of a supporter of illegal wars, a common practice after the death of western political figures; the fact that it happened while an illegal war is currently being waged and rightfully condemned not only reflect the tone-deafness of the email, but also the hollowness of the university’s humanitarian concern in general. It also begged the question, what exactly is there to celebrate about an association between the university and Madeline Albright?
Is it Albright’s championing of the bombing of, Serbia, in 1999? Then, Albright used her position as Secretary of State to create a precedent and use NATO forces to intervene militarily against a country that was not threatening a NATO member state. In a grotesque echo of Putin’s current ‘not a war but a military operation’ newspeak, Albright ignored the illegal status of the war provided by the UN and claimed that the seventy-eight days of ariel bombardment of Serbia, in which over one thousand civilians were killed, was a ‘humanitarian intervention’, not an act of war.
Perhaps it’s Albright’s insistence on the eastward expansion of NATO that should be celebrated? Where the collapse of the Soviet Union presented an opportunity for a general thaw in relations with Russia and the possibility to embark on a new path, as George F. Kennan, the architect of containment doctrine argued, Albright championed the expansion of NATO against previous promises creating a new cold war. The cost of this strategy is being paid by Ukrainian civilians and Russian anti-war protesters as we speak.
Many members of staff are also wondering if it was Albright’s argument that half a million dead Iraqi children was “worth it’ which warrants pride in the university’s relationship to her? In 1996, Albright was standing firm by sanctions implemented in 1990 which included a total financial and trade embargo. The sanctions lead to such dire levels of poverty that 1.5 million Iraqis, primarily children, would be killed as a direct consequence by 2003.
The hollowness of the university’s humanitarian concerns is not only rhetorical. Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition (GUADC), a student campaign group was set up after it became known that the University was investing more than £3m in some of the world’s largest arms manufacturers. In response to GUADC’s anti-militarist campaign, the University Senate voted, in 2020, to increase its investment in these companies. GUADC have found that the links between the University and the arms industry are more extensive than a few million stock market shares. They found that the University has received numerous research grants from arms manufacturers, including a £21m grant for research on drone technology that aims to develop drones which will have ‘the ability to see through fog and smoke’.
The IWW, and other anti-war and anti-militarist activists, will continue to cut through the doublespeak of university PR and expose the complicity between universities and those who profit directly from the destruction of human life. It will also not hesitate to point out the hypocritical and implicitly racist whitewashing of western war mongers or the utter disregard of the impact this whitewashing has on racialised students and staff.