Why Are We Hosting War Profiteers?

On July 12, 1993, elders of the Habr Gidr clan in Somalia gathered with national intellectuals, poets, religious leaders and combat commanders to discuss a peace initiative between themselves and the United Nations forces operating in the country. The meeting ended prematurely when six Cobra attack helicopters descended on the house, launching sixteen TOW missiles and thousands of cannon rounds, killing an estimated 54 people. The target of the raid, Mohammed Farah Aidid, was never at the house that night.

On December 17, 2009, two Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from a ship in the Gulf of Aden. They struck minutes later in the Yemeni Bedouin village of al’Majalah, killing 41 residents including 21 children, and 14 alleged members of al-Qaeda. The main target of the bombing was not killed and remains active to this day. Although the US government continues to deny responsibility for the attack, numerous journalists and rights groups noted the United States flag on missile casings that survived. One of these journalists, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, was tortured and jailed for his reporting – his early release was cancelled by a personal phone call from President Obama in 2013.

On August 20, 2014, amidst the chaos of the Israeli invasion of Gaza, 19-year-old Wafa’ Mustafa al-Louh was awakened at 5am by her house collapsing inward, struck by a 2,000-pound Paveway munition. Eight of her family members perished from the explosion and subsequent collapse. None were involved with any armed groups.

What binds these seemingly disparate events of terror together? None of them would have been possible without the help of Raytheon, the multibillion-dollar arms seller. The TOW missile, Tomahawk missile, and Paveway III are all built by Raytheon – right here in the United States – and on Thursday, Raytheon’s Director of Foreign Policy & National Security will be visiting the Career Center to tell you why you should help build them!

Let’s be clear: Raytheon is a war profiteer. Of course, at a certain level, all arms companies profit off of armed conflict. But Raytheon goes beyond that. It isn’t selling small arms but rather massive missiles – a single Tomahawk missile costs $1 million. Stocks for Raytheon surge whenever a strike is reported – even when, as in April’s $60 million strike against a Syrian airfield, the missiles fail to do lasting damage to strategic targets.

Raytheon is regularly estimated as the country’s fourth most profitable arms manufacturer, and it spends significant amounts of money on lobbying to keep it that way. Alongside its peers at Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing, Raytheon spent $13 million in lobbying during the first three months of Trump’s presidency – more than four times what the National Rifle Association spent in all of 2016.

Moreover, Raytheon regularly treads even where its multibillion-dollar buddies dare not go. It produced missiles capable of carrying cluster bombs – outlawed since 2008 – until mid-2016, and was the second-to-last U.S. company to stop producing them cluster munitions and associated armaments. Raytheon has also been involved in the production of depleted uranium weapons – a topic which I covered in more depth here.

It should be noted that Raytheon does more than manufacture explosives. While the radars it constructs are key to utilizing its missiles, it has also produced purely defensive systems such as Israel’s anti-missile Iron Dome. This doesn’t exclude the fact that Raytheon’s business is geared towards warfare – after all, every missile that Israel launches or that is launched towards Israel represents big bucks for the arms manufacturer.

However, Raytheon’s shady practices extend beyond its manufacturing. Incorporated in Massachusetts, Raytheon bullied the state government into granting it an annual $21 million tax break in the mid-1990s, according to activist and researcher Greg Leroy. Between 1990 and 2013, Raytheon had to pay out more than $68 million to employees, the federal government and other consumers for corruption, false advertising, overbilling, labor violations and illegal arms sales.

Raytheon has been repeatedly charged for groundwater contamination around its U.S. facilities. In neighborhoods near its St. Petersburg plant, for example, groundwater was found to contain the carcinogens “vinyl chloride, 1,4-dioxane, and trichloroethylene.”

In 2010, Raytheon partnered with a prison in California to test on inmates a device that “penetrates about a 64th of an inch under your skin. That’s about where your pain receptacles are. So it’s what it would feel like if you just opened up the doors of a blast furnace.” The ACLU said the device could be considered torture and accused the jail of using prisoners as “guinea pigs.”

Raytheon’s questionable human rights record continues today. It plans to sell $31 million worth of missiles to Saudi Arabia and Lebanon and is a major stakeholder in the $110 billion Obama/Trump arms deal with the Saudi kingdom. As part of this latter deal, Raytheon will establish a Saudi legal entity.  Saudi Arabia has been prosecuting a violent proxy war in Yemen that has been punctuated with accusations of war crimes by human rights groups, and a 2016 arms deal between Raytheon and the fundamentalist monarchy was cancelled by President Obama.

Clearly, Raytheon has an abominable record. The Career Center (and Amherst more broadly) have the responsibility to ask themselves whether bringing Raytheon representatives to campus truly fulfills Amherst’s interests.

Now, to be fair, the Raytheon rep is Sita Sonty ’00, an alumnus and formerly a career foreign service officer. Regardless of her prior experience, however, her current employment at Raytheon can’t be excused by the College and shouldn’t be by us. The Career Center is wrong to invite the employee of a war profiteer to talk to students.

Of course students have the right to choose whether or not to attend these events, but the school has limited resources and should spend these wisely. Presumably, the Career Center wouldn’t bring the private prisons company CoreCivic (formerly CCA), nor would they invite the mercenary company Academi (formerly Blackwater).

Amherst’s mission is to “give light to the world,” but so long as we keep inviting war profiteers to pitch to students, we can never hope to fulfill that lofty goal.