Speaking of Columbia College…

A screenshot from “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” the most complex and realistic modern battle video game to date. (Creative Commons photo from the Flikr account of bigdigo)

Have you heard about the $1.6 million the Pentagon is giving us to develop, essentially, a video game to train infantry?

Two media outlets have reported it to my knowledge, a Sun-Times blog and this military blog post. But both of them simply copy-pasted from a release by the office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL):

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 defense spending bill includes funding for the following projects:
· Columbia College Chicago, Chicago. $1,600,000 in funding for the Construct Program at Columbia College Chicago, which will develop interactive simulations for military training that provide soldiers with the ability to train in computerized real world environments. The program requires users to complete training tasks as a team and allows for the tracking and recording of motions and other characteristics of each participant during each training session. This capability, along with Construct’s ability to review session data in multiple visual formats, will allow the Army to better train soldiers for military conflicts at the unit level.

Durbin, who is assistant majority leader in the Senate, undoubtedly thinks this (and the other $43.8 million in defense spending he secured for the state) is a wonderful thing for his state’s economy, as most representatives do.

And in fact defense spending does boost the economy. But so would producing anything at the mass quantities needed to satiate our government’s desire for lethal weaponry.

Why can’t our government, say, spend $500 billion on switching our electricity generating apparatus to something renewable? I’ve spoken to people at high levels of government—both the Pentagon and the Department of Transportation, both people who come and go with a change in administration and people who stick around—and they know damn well how our dependence on foreign oil is a threat to national security. They seem to show the same level of concern about this as me. But for some reason, things stay the same.

The U.S. spends $1 trillion annually on defense, which doesn’t include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of those could cost trillions by the time they’re done. (Want some context for those massive numbers? The sums work out to tens of thousands of dollars for every American, every year. That’s a college education for everyone, folks.)

But what about Columbia specifically? The $1.6 million we received is but a drop in the national defense bucket. Yet, does working for the Pentagon really fit our  personality as a school? On the whole, we’re liberal. And based on my conversations with other students the past several months, most of us probably support some form of pacifism.

I don’t think many students or faculty would approve of this if they knew about it.

Columbia’s office of communications sure doesn’t want to brag. There isn’t even a webpage for this mysterious (and ambiguously named) “Construct Program,” which had to have been somewhat developed for the government to hand it a $1.6 million check. (Didn’t it?)

The Columbia Chronicle, the student newspaper, was out for winter break by the time the funding news arrived. I wonder if they’ll try to tackle it upon their return. If not, we’ll know why.

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