Harvard University
Covert Action Information Bulletin, Fall 1991, pp. 12-16

Harvard in Service to the National Security State

by John Trumpbour

Copyright © 1991 by Covert Action Publications, Inc., Washington DC,
and Institute for Media Analysis, Inc., New York NY. All rights reserved.

Harvard is the wealthiest and most influential of U.S. universities. MIT, Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, Stanford and the University of California are Washington's scientific bulwark. But it is Harvard which still provides more of the social science concepts and more of the personnel who occupy the command posts of the modern welfare-warfare state.

At the dawn of the Reagan era, Norman Stone, the conservative Oxford historian, traveled to Harvard for a conference on spying. Financed by the Defense Department and, in his words, "organized by American intelligence," the conference gave Stone his introduction to Reaganism. At odds with the "Kremlin on the Charles" description popularized by right-wing critics, the distinguished historian found himself amidst "youngish, besuited, presidential advisers with triangular green eyes, speaking deadpan about how to destroy communism."

"There was talk of nuking," he reminisced a decade later. "There was further talk, to the effect that a really big build-up of modern American weaponry would force the Soviet Union to compete. That competition would ruin the Soviet economy.... And lo and behold, America has spent ... $2.4 trillion in the past eight years. Mikhail Gorbachev is now leading the dismantling of communism. What is the connection? I would suspect direct."1

Stone's warm words for such earnest scholarly enterprise were matched years earlier by Harvard President Nathan Pusey (1953-71). He also understood the importance of the university in waging the Cold War:

The sort of activities that goes on in the classrooms and laboratories of Cambridge is contributing vastly to the immense national efforts we are making and shall have to make to live up to our nation's acquired responsibilities in the world and to compete effectively in this life-and-death struggle in which it seems that we are to be engaged for a long time with our alien rival, the U.S.S.R.... Our university has done its part -- and more -- in every conflict in our nation's history.2

Speaking before an ROTC panel in 1955, then Harvard Dean McGeorge Bundy spelled out the stakes for the University alliance with the military. "We are committed in a larger sense to developing the connection between our University and the Armed Forces in a wide variety of ways."

Bundy termed the Cold War "a period in which the techniques of academic learning, both in the Social Sciences and in the Natural Sciences, are more closely connected than ever before with those of the National Defense. A university," he scolded, "which does not try to develop to a maximal degree the interest, cooperation, and understanding between its staff members and those of the National Defense forces is not doing its full job."3

Roots of the Military-Academic Complex

The aftermath of World War II and attainment of the permanent war economy represented the triumph of those who envisioned the university as a service station for the national security state. The foundations for the creation of the military-academic complex, however, were laid as early as World War I. Harvard itself featured a war curriculum enrolling 864 students in "Military Science I" during 1916, and President Lawrence Lowell had the Harvard Yard dormitories converted into military barracks in 1917.4 An earlier nationwide trend of student disdain and outright rioting against campus military drill had been reversed in the mighty quake of hyper-nationalism unleashed by World War I. According to the Report of the Commissioner of Education (1918), U.S. Bureau of Education, Chicago, Columbia, Michigan, and Harvard "lost nearly all of their leading professors of physics" to the research work of the government during World War I. The New York Times (March 9, 1917) reported that 95 percent of Harvard's administration and faculty signed a petition urging President Wilson "to lead the people to defend at all costs the integrity of the nation."5 The National Board for Historical Service placed the nation's top historians "at the service of the government." It helped produce and disseminate such scholarship as "The Repulsiveness of the German State" by George H. Mead of the University of Chicago and "The Deeper Roots of Pan-Germanism" by Chicago medievalist James Westfall Thompson, who observed that French bestiaries of the Middle Ages gave "French names to the finer kinds of animals and German names to the wolf, the ass, etc."6

Those not willing to join the NBHS crusade faced chilling reprisal. Dissident historian Charles Beard stepped down from his post at Columbia in 1917 after "a very humiliating inquisition" from the board of trustees "in the presence of three or four of my colleagues ... who seemed to think the process quite right and normal." In 1918, reformist feminists and pacifists Katherine Coman and Emily Balch (the latter a 1946 Nobel laureate), were purged from the Wellesley faculty. Their students were further quarantined from their influence when the college's entire social science program was shut down for close to a decade.7

Cold War, Warm Bedfellows

The end of World War I did not mean an end of what had proven to be a mutually beneficial relationship. "The infusion of money, equipment, prestige, and political power which accompanied the intellectuals' participation in the war left them far more receptive to the principle of centrally administered, mission-oriented research," concludes education historian Clyde Barrow. "Public service was institutionalized in research and manpower training programs that would promote capitalist economic development and in assigning intellectuals responsibility for defending the American state against internal and external threats to its legitimacy."8

World War II further boosted the level of cooperation between the government and the university. "When OSS, America's wartime secret intelligence service, was set up in 1941," wrote Roger Hilsman, another former JFK-LBJ adviser, "one of the basic ideas behind it was the novel and almost impish thought that scholars could in some respects take the place of spies."9

With the rubble of World War II barely settled, the Cold War commenced. The OSS was transformed into the CIA which continued the cooperative tradition. Sumner Benson, Harvard Ph.D. and holder of the "Exceptional Intelligence Analyst Award" for his efforts in the CIA's Office of Political Analysis, noted that the Agency "has closer ties with the academic community, including the historical profession, than most other federal agencies," [and it] "has maintained a reputation as probably one of the two most academically selective agencies in the federal government."10

New mechanisms were developed in the post-war era through which the complementary relationship between government and academia was institutionalized. Harvard's McGeorge Bundy and others masterminded the expansion of international studies programs. Prior to World War II, the number of these programs could be counted on both hands. By 1968, however, there were 191 centers, most of them "manned, directed, or stimulated by graduates of the OSS,"11 according to Bundy. Ninety-five of these were concentrated at twelve universities.12

Protest Brings Cosmetic Reforms

There have been few breaches in the universities' service to the state. Politicians such as U.S. Senator Karl Mundt (R-SD) might later complain before a 1963 Princeton University conference that the universities were failing to do enough. "According to our top Soviet authorities," he wrote, "Lenin established the first three communist-operated political warfare schools in Western Europe. We have yet to create our first training institution devoted solely to this important task.... For in the Cold War our major striking power is ideas, with highly-skilled and well-trained men to implement them. When, I ask, are we going to begin to close the widening gap in the training of Cold War combatants?"13 [emphasis in original]

At last, the turbulence surrounding Washington's massive invasion of Vietnam brought for the first time a major upsurge in protests and revelations of the university's complicity with the national security state. This potentially explosive situation was defused by a series of largely cosmetic reforms including: a 1967 federal law forbidding the CIA from funding covert research at the universities; the movement of many ROTC programs off-campus; and pledges like that of Harvard president Derek Bok (1971-1991) to refuse secret research.

These inconveniences were soon circumvented and the happy marriage of academia and state returned to what now passed for normal. George Bush, CIA director in 1976 to early 1977, helped engineer the CIA's campus resurgence by arguing that U.S. intelligence always depended more "on a community of scholars than on a network of spies."14

One of those cheered by the reconciliation was Ernest May, the Harvard historian who helped lead the conference on spying described by Stone. "Harvard has always been intimately involved in the diplomatic and military spheres," he noted, "and the period of the late 60s and early 70s was only an interruption of that." May was soon to benefit directly from the restoration of the symbiotic relationship. He and professor of government Richard Neustadt were awarded a $1.2 million grant from the CIA for a study of intelligence.15

This grant was one of a series of large contracts which came to Harvard in the late 1980s and became a showcase for Bok's commitment to conducting what he called "open" research for the CIA. The purity of Harvard's prohibition of "secret" research had been sullied when media leaks revealed in 1985 that two of its leading political scientists, Samuel P. Huntington and Nadav Safran, were ongoing recipients of CIA funding. While denying that their research was covert, the Bok administration gave vague assurances that future CIA enterprises at Harvard would be open.

Moving In-house

Also circumvented in the 1980s was the liberal objection that programs such as ROTC were controlled by instructors outside the university community. While reaffirming the "independence" of the university from outside influences, the Bok regime oversaw the expansion of a broad range of programs tailored for the leaders of the national security establishment. These were to be taught in-house by the university's own faculty.

Bok described the transformation of the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) as his proudest achievement. During his reign it saw a more than ten-fold increase in endowment and under Dean Graham Allison (1977-1988), the KSG became heavily soaked in Department of Defense sponsorship. "Application procedures," boasts the current promotional literature for the KSG's "Program for Senior Officers in National Security," "[are] administered by the Employee Career Development and Training Division of the Secretary of Defense." This arrangement makes "independent" Harvard a veritable extension school for the Pentagon and the rest of the national security elite.

"A representative sampling" of 1990 participants includes "Special Agent in Charge, CIA," "Commanding Officer, Naval Research Laboratory," "Prospective Commanding Officer, U.S.S. Inchon." General Norman Schwarzkopf is a 1985 graduate of the program. "The Program also runs an extensive research effort," concludes its slick brochure, "including a series of case studies on counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency in Peru."16 Two months after the 1991 session of the Senior Officers program broke up, the Bush administration announced plans to send Green Beret and naval personnel to Peru to help its army crush guerrillas and drug traffickers. The Peruvian army, admitted the New York Times on August 7, 1991, "is known for a dismal human rights record."

In April 1990, protesters against the militarization of the university and the exorbitant cost of the eight-week program to the taxpayers -- $15,250 per student -- staged a peaceful sit-in at the KSG. Program director Bernard E. Trainor, a former New York Times correspondent and Marine general, issued a formal statement denouncing the demonstrators as "fascistic." Apparently joining the ongoing neoconservative campaign against the so-called totalitarianism of the PC (politically correct), Trainor employed the Orwellian jujitsu turnaround that today renders the peace movement as a latter day version of Mussolini's goosestepping blackshirts.17

Polishing the General

Meanwhile, Bok had enunciated Harvard's goal of becoming a center for training future global leaders. An early beneficiary of this putative internationalism is Guatemalan General Hector Alejandro Gramajo Morales, holder of Harvard's Mason fellowship and recipient of a master's degree from the Kennedy School of Government in June 1991. Gramajo was General Lucas Garcia's minister counselor for political affairs in Washington in 1980-81. Under this regime, "the death squads were running wild, killing an estimated 25,000 people," according to journalist Michael Massing. "Gramajo defended his regime to the end."

When General Efrain Rios Montt came to power in a March 1982 coup, Gramajo transferred his loyalty and took charge of a "pacification" campaign against Indians in Guatemala's western highlands modeled on the strategic hamlets the U.S. installed in Vietnam. In one massacre alone, soldiers hacked with machetes and smashed in the heads of over 300 unarmed civilians, including old people, children, and infants. "Gramajo acted ruthlessly," concludes Fernando Andrade Diaz-Duran, foreign minister under Rios Montt's successor. "Villages were bombed, and a lot of civilians got killed." The Washington Office on Latin America estimates between 50,000 and 75,000 peasants were killed while even the army puts the number at 10,000 dead.18 In November 1989, a U.S. nun, Diana Ortiz was captured, tortured, and sexually molested by Guatemalan security forces. Gramajo responded that her story was a fabrication, a futile attempt to cover up a lesbian love affair. Americas Watch termed Gramajo's allegation a "pure invention."19 In an interview with the Harvard International Review, Gramajo explained his commitment to military reform and human rights:

We aren't renouncing the use of force. If we have to use it, we have to use it, but in a more sophisticated manner. You needn't kill everyone to complete the job. [You can use] more sophisticated means; we aren't going to return to the large-scale massacres. We have created a more humanitarian, less costly strategy, to be more compatible with the democratic system. We instituted Civil Affairs [in 1982] which provides development for 70 percent of the people while we kill 30 percent. Before the strategy was to kill 100 percent.20

When the Harvard Crimson asked if these statements accurately represented his views, he retreated, suggesting that the transcript reflected a certain lack of linguistic dexterity, his characteristic use of "broken English." "I really did not mean exactly 'kill,'" but rather that soldiers cannot "renounce coercive action" and that the military is now "going to make a very clear distinction between [civilians and insurgents]." During his tenure as Guatemalan minister of defense from 1987 to 1990, Gramajo oversaw a military accused of butchering dozens of university students, provoking Anne Manuel of Americas Watch to find "a sort of tragic irony" in Harvard's ardor for educating him.21 Gramajo is believed to have chosen to come to Harvard as part of his plan to run for Guatemala's presidency in 1995. And Harvard, as U.S. Representative Chester Atkins (D-MA) observed, appears to be in the business of "laundering reputations."

The Fortunes of War in the Gulf

The recent crisis in the Gulf has produced another opportunity for Harvard's foreign policy braintrust to be heard in the corridors of power. From the very beginning, the White House turned to the Kennedy School. Lecturer Richard Haass was "one of a handful of advisers constantly at Bush's side during the crisis," wrote the Boston Globe, and an architect of "the 'no negotiation' approach Bush is taking."

"If this thing turns out well," an admiring colleague observed, "the sky is his limit."22

Other Harvard intellectuals emerged in the vanguard of the pro-Gulf War movement. Nadav Safran, previous recipient of a $107,000 grant from the CIA for a book on Saudi Arabia, authored a December 27, 1990, New York Times op-ed piece calling on the administration to reject any Iraqi overtures as they were tainted with linkage. Harvard lecturer and New Republic commander-in-chief Martin Peretz, avowing superior knowledge and expertise on the region, complained that his lack of invitations to appear on news shows during the crisis was indicative of the media's supposed anti-Israeli bias. More popular as a media-approved expert was Laurie Mylroie, Harvard Center for International Affairs fellow and coauthor of a bestselling biography of Saddam Hussein pumped out just in time for the war. Known in some circles as "the Weathervane" for shifting her scholarship to the prevailing winds in Washington, Mylroie wrote essays in the mid to late 1980s on the benefits of military alliance with the regime in Baghdad. In them, she marvelled at Saddam's march towards democracy, only to switch in 1990 to outraged calls to smash Iraq and the PLO.

For those who thought that Michael Dukakis might have pursued a less crusading interventionism than Bush, Harvard has an answer. Joseph Nye, an undersecretary of state during the Carter years, and Graham Allison, ex-KSG dean and consultant to Reagan Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, had been projected for high foreign policy posts under the future Democrat administration. Both waxed enthusiastic about the need for decisive military intervention.

"If we had gone along and given [Saddam Hussein] three weeks," said Nye in opposition to the February 1991 Soviet peace initiative, "it is plausible [Saddam] would change his mind and set other conditions."23 The minority of Harvard experts who called for the pursuit of diplomacy throughout the crisis were stampeded by the herd rampaging toward war.

Onward to Eastern Europe

The next major frontier for Harvard social science is the conversion of the command economies of Eastern and Central Europe, especially that of Poland, to capitalism. Several countries of the region have turned to a Harvard economist to carry out the transition. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the advocate of shock therapy in Latin America, has advised Poland to ingest a bracing tonic of high unemployment and decline in living standards, which he reassures will be temporary. Budapest-born Harvard Professor Janos Kornai is Hungary's leading guru of privatization.

Harvard academics are also promoting capitalist reforms in the U.S.S.R. KSG's Graham Allison runs the Carnegie Corporation and Getty Foundation-sponsored "Strengthening Democratic Institutions" project which, with Russian Federation deputy prime minister Grigory Yavlinsky, is proposing privatization linked to a Marshall Plan-type aid package. After Allison and Yavlinsky met with Bush, Yavlinsky reported the President said "[I] liked what I heard."24

Liberal Boutique

Harvard is widely perceived as an "ultra-liberal boutique" -- a stock phrase in the campaign oratory of George Bush throughout 1988. One anonymous alumnus of the Program for Senior Officers in National Security, had apparently accepted the neoconservative picture of universities as overrun by what former Secretary of Education William Bennett called "academic totalitarians ... whose principal talk is to raise revolutionary consciousness."25 He was pleasantly surprised to find that "[t]he quality of the faculty and the course rekindled my faith in Harvard."26

His sentiments were echoed by another CIA veteran. "I am certain," declared the Agency division chief and 1988 graduate of the program, "the framework will serve me well for the rest of my career."27

Their endorsements are striking testimony that the twentieth century university remains a sanctuary for the Pentagon and the CIA and a modern monument to knowledge in the service of Empire.

1.   Norman Stone, "A Farewell to the Arms Race," Sunday Times (London), books supplement, February 11, 1990, p. H8.

2.   Nathan Pusey, Harvard and Cambridge (pamphlet, 1959). Pusey's text was delivered in May 1959 at the Commander Hotel in Cambridge.

3.   Bundy quoted in booklet, How Harvard Rules (1969 edition). The 1969 version reproduces many documents on Bundy's role in expanding international studies. For a fuller historical treatment of these issues, see the 1989 book version: John Trumpbour, ed., How Harvard Rules (Boston: South End Press, 1989).

4.   For an essay actively lauding this development, see the right-wing Harvard publication, Peninsula. Roger Landry, "Harvard Was Once Allied With the Allies," Peninsula, April 1991, pp.28-29.

5.   For these citations, see: Clyde W. Barrow, Universities and the Capitalist State: Corporate Liberalism and the Reconstruction of American Higher Education, 1894-1928 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), pp. 135, 142, and 283n.

6.   See Waldo G. Leland, "The National Board for Historical Service," Annual Report of the A.H.A. for the Year 1919, Volume 1 (Washington DC, 1923); George H. Mead, "The Repulsiveness of the German State," History Teachers Magazine, IX, November 1918; and James Westfall Thompson, "The Deeper Roots of Pan-Germanism," History Teachers Magazine, IX, October 1918. I am grateful to Cyrus Veeser for showing the connections between the NBHS and the rise of Western Civilization courses.

7.   Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 325-26.

8.   Barrow, pp. 124-25. Also see: David Noble, America by Design: Science, Technology and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (New York: Knopf, 1977).

9.   Roger Hilsman, Strategic Intelligence and National Decisions (Glencoe IL: Free Press, 1956).

10.   Benson from essay in the Public Historian cited by R.J. Lambrose, "The Abusable Past," Radical History Review, 28-30, 1984, pp. 67-72.

11.   Bundy in: Dimensions of Diplomacy, Edgar A.G. Johnson, ed., (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1964), pp. 2-3.

12.   Data on area studies from David Horowitz, "Sinews of Empire," Ramparts, October 1969.

13.   Karl E. Mundt, "Need for a National Freedom Academy," in John Boardman Whitton, ed. Propaganda and the Cold War: A Princeton University Symposium (Washington DC: Public Affairs Press, 1963), p. 79.

14.   Quoted by R.J. Lambrose, op. cit., pp. 516-17.

15.   Ibid. For greater background on these developments, see John Trumpbour, ed., How Harvard Rules, 1989, pp. 67-72.

16.   See brochure: "Program for Senior Officers in National Security, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University," April 1 - May 24, 1991. It provides the following notes on eligibility for admission: "Senior Officers in National Security is designed for civilian officials in the national security community of GS-15 or equivalent rank and for military officers at the colonel or Navy captain rank.... The full support and sponsorship of each applicant's employing organization is required.... Prospective candidates from inside the Department of Defense who do not receive one of the OSD-sponsored slots may apply directly. Applicants from outside the Department should also apply directly."

17.   Michael E. Balagur, "Activists Sit-in, Protest K-School Ties to Pentagon," Harvard Crimson, April 2, 1991, pp. 1, 7.

18.   Patrick Brogan, The Fighting Never Stopped (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), p. 432.

19.   Michael Massing, "The New Game in Guatemala," New York Review of Books, October 25, 1990. See also: Tim Golden, "Controversy Pursues Guatemalan General Studying in U.S.," New York Times, December 3, 1990. Gramajo admitted he lacks evidence for his allegation against Ortiz.

20.   Gramajo quoted by Joshua A. Gerstein, "Rights Issues Haunt Graduating General," Harvard Crimson, June 4, 1991, pp. A1, A7.

21.   Ibid.

22.   Stephen Kurkjian, "Of Strategy and Stamina," Boston Globe, September 24, 1990, p. 3.

23.   Lan Nguyen, "Who's Right?", Harvard Crimson, March 1, 1991, p. 3.

24.   "KSG Proposes 'Grand Bargain' to Aid U.S.S.R," Harvard Gazette, July 5, 1991, p. 7, and Graham Allison and Grigory Yavlinsky, "Different Drummer, Different Market," New York Times, July 3, 1991, p. A19, op-ed.

25.   Quoted in David Bell, "Ghosts of Leftists Past," New Republic, August 11-18, 1986.

26.   Quotations of KSG alumni from 1991 KSG promotional brochure.

27.   Op. cit., 1989. On the KSG's service to the Reagan administration and the Right, see: Richard Cravatts, "Kennedy School: Conservative Hotbed," New York Times, July 15, 1988, p. A31, op-ed.


John Trumpbour is a teaching fellow at the Department of History, Harvard University and editor of How Harvard Rules: Reason in the Service of Empire (Boston: South End Press, 1989) and The Dividing Rhine: Politics and Society in Contemporary France and Germany (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1989).

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