Last spring, I took “Introduction to Justice and Peace Studies,” a course that was informative beyond my expectations. As we moved beyond theory and examined institutions and movements ranging from the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex to globalization, I grew incredulous at how little I truly knew about the nuances of the world’s most unjust structures. I would rush off to lunch after class, launching into monologues to my friends about whatever I had learned that day. For me, these outbursts are where the problem began.
To their credit, my friends — deeply socially conscious individuals — initially listened with patience and interest. Many of them made innocent comments about how emotionally exhausting the course material was. After a few days of this, however, I would raise a topic or consideration only for people to sarcastically label me as a justice and peace studies major stereotype — a social justice warrior or even a communist.
Calling me a communist, even in jest, when I attempt to discuss workers’ rights or the effects of globalization is the easy way out. It is easier than listening to what I have to say or acknowledging that we have an influence on what is happening halfway around the world. Each of us should educate ourselves — whether by taking the JUPS introductory course, by doing some simple research or by listening to a friend who wants to tell you about these issues.
To be fair, I realize I could sometimes be obnoxious in my monologues, sounding like the person who brings up starving children each time someone throws away a scrap of food. But the more often my friends seemed to dismiss me, the more I persisted. What I was learning in my JUPS class was not leaving me depressed, as everyone thought, but rather incredibly frustrated. In some ways, I was frustrated more with my friends’ indifference than with the problems themselves.
Some of the most crucial information for us to learn as residents of any given country is the history and actions of our institutions — our government, our corporations and other global organizations, and in particular the effects they have together internationally. We buy into these institutions through our tax dollars, our investments and our purchases in the future; we are all complicit in their actions.
To me, one of the most striking and perhaps underdiscussed examples of such an institution — or in this case, a network — is the military-industrial complex. The military-industrial complex refers to the gigantic industry in which five of the world’s most powerful countries — the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which consists of the United States, China, Russia, France and the U.K. — sell billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to developing countries each year, perpetuating civil conflict for profit in regions like sub-Saharan Africa.
Many of these weapons are either sold directly to dictators and armed groups in nondemocratic or war-torn countries or find their way there through black markets. These developing countries thus never invest in education or health care, as is desperately needed, instead remaining entrenched in civil conflict. Moreover, rather than repairing our own often-struggling social systems in the United States, our tax dollars support institutions — including our own government — that perpetuate this crassly profit-driven cycle. But if we do not even know about the military industrial complex, how can we speak up against it?
I am not the first college student to care about these issues, nor will I be the last. I do not harbor hopes of saving the world, especially on my own, and I recognize how many people have fought to bring attention to these issues worldwide.
Even on our own campus over the past year, students — specifically members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee — have tirelessly lobbied the university to not renew its contract with Nike due to the company’s exploitation of sweatshop labor. This fall, the university announced it will require Nike to open its factories to review by the Worker Rights Consortium and will hold Nike to the Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees, a decision that demonstrates the power of drawing attention to these issues.
While we do not all have to devote our lives and careers to activism, we can all be educated. Take a moment to look up the military-industrial complex or to research how free trade hurts developing countries when it is imposed with only our interests in mind. Dig a little deeper than you normally would, and use that knowledge to help decide how to move forward. As my justice and peace studies professor Elham Atashi would say: “If you have choices, you have power.” We can all choose whether to take responsibility for these issues. Until we educate ourselves, we cannot speak up.
Orunima Chakraborti is a sophomore in the College.