On February 27, during General Stanley McChrystal’s lecture at Johns Hopkins, the exterior of the building was illuminated with large-scale projections. But instead of advertising the lecture inside — the first in this year’s student-organized Foreign Affairs Symposium — the projections showed injured children and images of warfare. “JHU Research at Work: Reckless, Wrong, Illegal,” read the words projected on the building’s facade.
The projections were coordinated by the JHU Human Rights Working Group and Luminous Intervention, an artist group that creates large-scale, politically-minded outdoor projections. The groups joined forces to protest the university’s involvement in developing drone technology for the Pentagon.
McChrystal pioneered the use of drones in Afghanistan, but earlier this year he seemed to warn the administration against relying on them. “What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world,” he told Reuters in January. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes … is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one…[drone warfare creates] perception of American arrogance that says, ‘Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.'” (Excerpts from these quotations were also included in the rotating series of projections.)
The Human Rights Working Group has created a petition calling for the cessation of Pentagon-funded drone research at the university. “We are worried that our country is leading the way to a new type of warfare in which most of the killing will be done by remote control. Allowing government leaders to dispatch robots rather than soldiers is lowering the threshold of war, making the world a much more dangerous place. Moreover, the drone program has been a covert operation, with little accountability or transparency. The involvement of Johns Hopkins in this program has also been shrouded in secrecy, and little is known about it outside the cloistered grounds of the APL (even President Daniels is not allowed to view its Pentagon contracts),” they note.