Antiwar activism met corporate gaslighting Wednesday as General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic refused to acknowledge the deadly consequences of her firm’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other nations after CodePink cofounder Medea Benjamin interrupted a company shareholder meeting.
Benjamin attended the annual meeting in Reston, Virginia and calmly confronted Novakovic about her company’s weapons sales to countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. She specifically mentioned a March 25, 2016 Saudi-led airstrike that hit a crowded marketplace in the Yemeni village of Mastaba, killing scores of civilians.
“How is it morally responsible to be engaged in a war in Yemen where now as a result of that war, every 75 seconds a child dies from war and hunger?” Benjamin asked. “My heart goes out to the children of Yemen and I was wondering if you think about them as well, because while they are dying, people in this company are making profits off of them.”
It’s not every day you get to directly confront the CEO of a major weapons company and ask how they feel about a business model that thrives on conflict, destruction, war and suffering. https://t.co/kCHrn5r6PChttps://t.co/dMVaoqdjyQ
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) May 6, 2021
Novakovic replied by accusing Benjamin of spreading “potentially libelous and incorrect information” that is “born from a lack of knowledge.”
“I think that’s one of the things we should talk about, because the internet is full of misinformation, including the incident you cited at the marketplace,” the CEO said. “I am going to presume that you don’t know the facts, and we are perfectly willing to share them with you.”
The facts, as determined by Human Rights Watch and reported by the New York Times and others, are that a General Dynamics MK-84 2,000-pound bomb was dropped on the Mastaba market, and that 97 civilians – 25 of them children – were identified as victims. Another 10 bodies were burned beyond recognition.
Benjamin pressed Novakovic on General Dynamics’ sales to Saudi Arabia: “The Saudi regime is evil, and you provide them with weapons. Is there anything moral about supplying Saudi Arabia with weapons?”
Novakovic retorted that “we can define and we can debate who is evil and who is not but we do support the policy of the U.S. and I happen to believe… the policy of the US is just and fair.”
There is virtually universal agreement among rights advocates that Saudi Arabia is ruled by one of the world’s most repressive regimes, and that the country’s human rights record is among the world’s worst.
Benjamin also took aim at what many peace activists call the inherently immoral nature of the military-industrial complex, including the revolving door between the Pentagon and the private sector, as she faced a General Dynamics board whose members include former Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis returns to General Dynamics’ board of directors https://t.co/VCUb9Ig8qM
— CNBC (@CNBC) August 7, 2019
“If you have a model where you need global conflict, where you need wars in order to make money, I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the company and you ought to have some more moral reflection about how you earn your billions of dollars,” Benjamin asserted.
Novakovic replied that “our role is to support the US military and US national security policy and the preservation of peace and liberty.”
“I believe that and I believe that passionately,” she said. “We hope for peace, we pray for peace, we work for peace.”
General Dynamics was founded in 1952. The United States has been at war or engaged in military occupation or other foreign interventions nearly every single year (pdf) since then, while selling or giving hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weaponry and other equipment to dozens of countries.
As the United States continues to spend more on its military than the next 10 countries combined – $778 billion in 2020 – executives at arms companies continue to enjoy stupendous salaries and bonuses. Benjamin took Novakovic to task for “personally making $21 million a year through a business model that thrives on conflict, death, and destruction.”
“The worst thing for your company would be if peace breaks out in the Middle East,” Benjamin said, a possible reference to Raytheon Technologies CEO Greg Hayes’ recent reassurance to investors that the Biden administration’s temporary hold on the sale of nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of bombs to Saudi Arabia wouldn’t threaten profits.
“Look,” said Hayes, “peace is not going to break out in the Middle East anytime soon. I think it remains an area where we’ll continue to see solid growth.”
Brett Wilkins is is staff writer for Common Dreams. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. This originally appeared at CommonDreams and is reprinted with the author’s permission.