The BAE Debate – The Facebook Chapter

In recent days and weeks, the university’s investment in BAE Systems, one of the largest armaments companies in the world, has shocked many into protest. I was one of them, protesting not against the fact that the university invests in this industry so much as the principle behind it. What I mean by that is, as customers of the university, and by some stretch of imagination, shareholders, we weren’t allowed access to the university’s annual reports. We couldn’t see where our money was going, and had no idea where it was being invested until some investigative work from a team of journalists uncovered the truth.

Aberystwyth University is a public company, which means its records and annual reports should be available to the general public for viewing. This is not the case – we are being denied a fairly basic right as customers.

We should, on principle, at least be able to see where our money is going and be able to discuss this with the Finance Office. After numerous emails and phone conversations, I was finally able to get a meeting with a representative from this office. He assured me that if I wanted to, I could certainly look at the annual reports. I then asked to see them, at which point I was told it was a private matter and I was not authorised to view them. A complete contradiction in terms; he was unwilling to explain any further and said they were a matter of public record. Yet I could not see them.

A coursemate recently posted this as his status: “believes that the bloody hippies who are protesting against the university’s investments in BAE should frankly grow up and stop being childish idealists.” What was I supposed to do, take it lying down?! Here’s the debate that followed. Needless to say, he doesn’t speak to me anymore.

“Jane Doe: Oh you’ve got some at your uni too?we had people occupying a massive lecture theatre

John Doe: It’s actually pathetic when you think about it, the weapons BAE produces and that are used by our armed forces protect their right to put on their childish display…

Jon Doe 2: The problem with BAE is they charge too much for the weapons.

John Doe 3: Exactly Harry – the recent protest done here, with a load of students pretending to be dead with rifles lying around them was pathetic. If it wasn’t for investment in defence industries then all the crisis management ops across the world – you know – saving lives and preventing genocide etc, wouldn’t happen.

Me: I see a problem with paying £12,000 a year and having any portion of that money going to fuel the arms industry. Incidentally, partners of BAE also supply weapons to child soldiers in Africa.

John Doe 3: Ah of course. How right you are. Let’s STOP funding ALL arms industries and see where we are then shall we?

Because then we wouldn’t have the avionics in a C-17 Globemaster… which in turn means we can’t transport troops and aid to countries that need it. But what does that matter? The genocides and ethnic cleansing that goes on are not OUR concern are they? It doesn’t matter if WE can’t do anything about it. We’ll just sit happily back and let them all kill themselves.

Great Plan. [/sarcasm]

I would gladly have ALL of my tuition fees go towards defence spending – because it is NEEDED if the UK is to have a modern and projectable military force that can do good in the world.

I assume that your lack of understanding about the importance of defence and crisis management doesn’t extend so far as to be a lack of compassion in this matter?

Me: You’re getting confused – I’m not saying no one should fund the arms industry. People who see no problem in killing innocent civilians and attacking countries their governments perceive as potential threats at some point in the future are more than welcome to it.

We can’t say we’re a democratic, somewhat liberal university that represents the needs and beliefs of everyone who’s a part of it, if on the sly investments are being made into killing machines.

And while we’re on transporting troops and aid to countries that “need it”, let’s get one thing clear. I’ve never condoned sending soldiers into a country that’s “in need of help”. Investments in industry, FDI, civil society strengthening and charity work is the only viable long term solution, not sending in troops for crying out loud.

Also, who determines who “needs” it? A politician sitting in an air-conditioned room in the West who has some warped view that just because soldiers “prop” up society for him, they’ll do the same thing in a foreign country. More than likely a country he knows little more about than its location.

I’m not stopping you from investing in BAE – go right on ahead if you think that road leads to prosperity. I want some say in where my money goes and I can’t assuage my conscience when that money is going towards perfecting ways of killing people.

You’re not making the distinction here. People who want to should invest in such activities. People with differing politics should be able to have some input as to where their money goes.
I assume you don’t have some moral issue with me being able to determine where hard-earned money goes?

John Doe 3: Ah, see what you ARE saying is that anyone who believes in standing up and making a positive difference in the world through joining the military is no better than a murderer. Wrong. On EVERY account. People join the military because it’s a way of defending one’s contry and helping those who need it. It is our DUTY to make sure that the military of this nation is capable of achieving its aim of being a force for good.

And I’m quite glad Aber can’t be called a somewhat Liberal uni – honestly – I don’t see where this idea has come from – it teaches 21st C Warfare, 20th C Warfare, Special Forces, etc etc etc. It’s most certainly not liberal (thank GOD).

As for you never condoning intervention. I’d LOVE to see charity work overcome ethnic cleansing – I really would! I’d LOVE to see investments in industry (apart from the arms industry ;)) do anything to stop state leaders inflicting biological weapons on their own people. See how absurd that sounds?

Some say violence never solved anything – wrong. Violence is the biggest deciding factor in history. And sometimes when VERY bad people need to be stopped, it’s the ONLY way. And incidientally, the decision as to who “needs” help is also come to by NGOs – those organisations hippies say they love so much. Rwanda 1994 saw NGOs crying out for some kind of intervention. But by your logic – they deserved to be left to slog it out amongst themselves.

When psychotics wielding machetes take it upon themselves to kill half their country – SOMETHING has to be done. And I’d argue that the person who refuses to act to save the lives of others is a worse man than he who kills one to save a thousand.

The money invested in BAE goes towards saving people. Saving civilisations. Saving children

Never forget it.

Me: What’s with the Hollywood speech? Look, you and I are arguing different things. Why do you think I’m targeting the armed forces at all? We’re not talking about the nature of war or the honour of solider, because that’s a completely different – and may I add irrelevant – debate which you and I will never agree on.

You do realise that the university consists of more than our department right? Right? Please say you’re aware of that. And the sum of our political views is reflected in more than the modules offered. Ever talked to our lecturers, found of what their personal politics were? The majority of them in our department are either moderates or liberals. Law is almost full of liberals, as is history.

If we’re looking at the Humanities faculty as most relevant to this debate, we can conclude that yes, for the most part, our teaching staff are liberal. If we look at the sort of societies that we have and the politics of the people ‘leading’ us in the Union, yes we are a semi-liberal university.

I refuse to engage in a debate on ethnic cleansing or war or the nature of soldiers. If you’d seen how soldiers outside the UK behave, what their mentalities and training is like, you wouldn’t support that foolish notion that they are, in general, the finest of men. Certainly, I know some very noble and good men who happen to be soldiers. I also know some warmongers who just want to ‘blow shit up and kill them all’.

Don’t change the topic of this debate, we’re talking about the logic of having the student population have a say in what their university invests in. NOT wars. NOT ethnic cleansing and I refuse to talk about whether soldiers are murderers or not.

Jane Doe 2: ok whilst u 2 have a crazy person argument im gonna intervene with a question of my own; we are talking about funding BRITISH engineers so the direct result will be helping the troops. From what i know of John Doe 3 that will make him happy- and maybe even do a little dance! However Sanjukta has a point our money is OUR money and we should have the right to say where it goes. Although I gotta say- where does the line get drawn- if we are talking about investment then where do we stop? John Doe 3, I know you love what you do and you believe it- so do I- but we have to acknowledge that try as we might these weapons WILL get into the wrong hands and WILL get used in ways that they weren’t intended. That’s a fact. What i ask myself is whether what they are intended for could outweigh whatever damage they do? So maybe we oughtta no a little more about where the money will go EXACTLY. I think you are both right but from the above you have both failed to see the others point

John Doe 3: Hollywood? Perish the thought. Pinewood, if anything.

The Interpol Dept is a significant portion of Aber Uni, and that which makes it famous. And frankly, the political opinions of lecturers in other departments are no more important than the geographical opinion of a history lecturer.

The lecturers I have spoken to are either moderate or conservative – heck some I’ve chatted to get pissed off when people argue that the Iraq war was wrong. But then I suppose the lecturers you’re talking about are the ones who teach the peace and love modules – right?… Read more

Anyway, back to your first paragraph – I think we obviously ARE talking about the nature of war – because investing in arms industries is investing in your countries ability to project force. Force which, in this day and age is used for good. Let’s look at the EU shall we? (yes i KNOW you hate it) – but under the ESDP, the EU is looking to take a greater responsibility in crisis management like that —

Jane Doe 2: im sure the uni would be proud!! just remember that its not about the weapons themselves its about who uses them. but then on top of that the bad men John Doe 3 was talking about already have enough weapons to do damage- more than enough- more sophisticated weapons could actually mean LESS deaths- couldn’t it?

John Doe 3: incidents such as the Balkans etc. If they’re to do this, BAE systems needs all the support it can get, because the issue that the EU has is strategic airlift – getting resources into theatre – and BAE plays a key role in the C-17 – which is a potential solution through resource pooling to this problem.

If you WANT a lovely English School style world, an Idealists world where governments come together to make legitimate decisions about intervening on humanitarian grounds – the practical assets need to be there first!”

Jane Doe 2: yea but the ESDP does [censored] in the world apart from peacekeeping so its useless and pointless and NATO would have 2 roll over 4 the EU to get its way i dont think even Obamas gonna let that go lightly!

John Doe 3: Yes – which is what I’m saying. Currently it can’t. But the key reason for this IS lack of strategic airlift – and they’re working to improve it.

Jane Doe 2: ok so we get planes u really think that the US is gonna let anything happen under ESDP?????? that about as likely as hell freexzing over….. we seem 2 have come off topic here!!!!!

John Doe 3: Ah yes. Back to the moral imperative of a “responsibility to protect” those that need it.”

I see what Jane Doe 2 was saying, and it’s clear from this that my coursemate and I were making completely separate points. The fact of the matter is, the University is a public company, meaning its records should be public. This is not the case; when we ask to see them, we’re dismissed.

When we asked to set up meetings to find out what its other investments are, we were also dismissed.

When we asked for an audience to hear our side of the story, we were dismissed.

I have a real problem with people who jump immediately to painting placards and staging protests as it implies that no effort has been made to engage with the other side in a dialogue or any such meeting. But what are we supposed to do if we’re not given a meeting and no one will hear us? We stage a protest so no one can help but hear us out.

At the end of the day, our protests did little else but start debates like this – on investment policy, the arms trade and the right to assembly. Still, it’s something – and I doubt we would have had these debates without our protests.

This isn’t a debate about BAE systems or the arms industry. I may well start one later – what I object to is the fact that we’re not allowed to talk to our finance directors, we’re not allowed to see reports we should be allowed to see, and we’re not even allowed to air our opinions to authorities. And when we protest against that, we get called childish hippies and our cause dismissed as uneducated and misinformed.


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