Gathering Place
Amarjit Singh

Sunday, May 1, 2005

Left and right brains
battle over UARC at UH

For six months, the Manoa campus has ardently discussed the UARC issue. Whether the University of Hawaii should contract with the Navy to become a University Affiliated Research Center has been debated repeatedly in the Manoa Faculty Senate, of which I am a member. Passions have run high, and I can understand why. People believe very deeply about certain issues. However, when you look more deeply at the issue, you see that the fight over UARC is really only a battle between the left and right brains.

The emotional appeal against UARC is a typical right-brain reaction. Promoting peace instead of war -- "make love, not war" -- is a valid and well-recognized right-brain activity. Emotional outbursts cannot be argued out; there is often no logical explanation for them; they are a human instinct. Thus, when the Hawaiians want nothing to do with the military, no matter how much money the military might bring to the state, there is no argument against that right-brain emotion. You either subscribe to that emotion or you don't. There is nothing invalid about wanting Hawaii without the U.S. military -- especially not when you study the history of the Hawaiian monarchy.

However, we should not lose perspective about what the UARC can -- and cannot -- do. Opponents tend to think that the UARC will only do research on making weapons. Though there is some truth in that, it is not the entire truth. If people do not like military research, they should stop using the Internet, e-mail and cell phones that use GPS. Why? Because the military invented them. The military does research on many topics that have civilian uses. In my area of construction management, military researchers developed the critical path method of project control (in 1958) now used worldwide; they developed creative cost control systems (1967) now required on federal government projects above a certain size; they developed "partnering" (1985), a dispute resolution tool that has reduced litigation against government agencies nationwide and dramatically improved construction efficiency.

Moreover, the military does basic research on water quality, the benefits of which trickle down to civilian life as well. What is more important than weapons for an army on the march? Water!

Thanks to military research, we have been able to improve our understanding of water purification systems. Perhaps, those who dislike all military research should stop drinking water that has been improved by military research.

Protesting against a UARC will not bring independence to Hawaiians, and will not further the movement to make the islands a purely "Hawaiian place." The protesters should take their battle to a different forum if those are their objectives. Though I empathize with Hawaiians who want self-determination, they are not one inch closer by protesting the UARC.

The military will get its research no matter what. As much as I believe in peace, I know we must prepare for war. Look what happened to peaceful Tibet when it did not prepare for war.

Incidentally, where were the protesters these past 40 years while classified research has been going on quietly on the Manoa campus? Did that research hurt anybody? Most didn't even notice it. So, why the uproar now? The idealism has gone overboard and lost sense of reality -- a vain attempt to stop the sun from rising. Moreover, even if the UARC doesn't come to fruition, classified research at UH will not stop

Now, back to my left brain-right brain equation: The left brain argues that the money from the UARC -- $15 million plus jobs for grad students and post docs -- will help UH provide better education. A UARC would bring national prominence to UH scientists that would attract even more research money. The rolling stone would gather moss, and Hawaii prosper. After all, Hawaii is known for its sunshine!

Amarjit Singh is an associate professor of construction management at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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