Tell CalSTRS to divest from the war machine

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) is the second largest pension fund in the United States. CalSTRS has invested millions in General Dynamics, a company which has been implicated in war crimes and the loss of countless innocent lives around the world. In one of the most egregious cases, where 54 were killed, 44 children, and more wounded in an airstrike on a school bus with remnants of a General Dynamics guided metal fin found at the scene [1]. As the largest educator-only pension fund in the world, CalSTRS has a responsibility to divest from companies like General Dynamics which shows such brazen disregard for the sanctity of human life- in particular, the attack on the Yemeni school bus on August 9, 2018[2]. We demand that CalSTRS immediately divest from weapon manufacturer General Dynamics.


To: CalSTRS Executive Officers and Board Members

We, the undersigned CalSTRS members, object to the roughly $89 million[3] worth of investments in General Dynamics. We urgently demand an immediate and complete divestment of our retirement funds from General Dynamics.

General Dynamics is an American based company and the sixth largest weapons’ manufacturer in the world[4]. In 2017 alone, the company earned $19.6 billion in arms sales in 2017, which is 63% of its total revenues of $31 billion[5]. The weapons made by General Dynamics are sold to governments around the world, including Israel[6], the United States, Egypt[7], Canada, Iraq[8], and Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy[9]. General Dynamics has a long-lasting contract with Saudi Arabia estimated at $1.3 billion dollars[10] -providing weapons to a country which is waging a war on Yemen that has already killed an estimated six thousand innocent civilians[11]. In 2017, the defense company was also committed to receiving $13.7 billion from the U.S. Department of Defense[12].

We are concerned that the weapons made by General Dynamics are partly responsible for the innocent lives lost in Yemen. The company’s arms sales only contribute to the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in the region, which creates strong resentment towards our country and contributes to the rise of violent extremism. The most concerning point about General Dynamics is the August 2018 attack on the Yemeni school bus where forty-four innocent children, returning from a field trip, were killed and seventy-seven were wounded. The New York Times reports that one of its reporters was shown the remnants of a General Dynamics guided metal fin that is normally attached to a 500-pound bomb. The reports on the remnants were that it was found near the school bus bomb site[13] with a unique manufacturer code identifying it as a General Dynamic’s product. The product was manufactured at its facility in Garland, Texas. Human Rights Watch stated the attack on the school bus was an apparent war crime.

The human rights’ organization has obtained photographs, videos, and witness testimony on the attack[14]:

“Three brothers who were on the bus – Ahmad, 14, Hassan, 13, and Yahia Hanash, 11 – said that the bus stopped so the bus driver could buy water, and that they did not see any armed men in the market. Ahmad, who can no longer hear in one ear, said:

Boys my age went on the first trip [two weeks previously], but my family was late in preparing breakfast that day and they heard airplanes, so I missed the bus. The teachers told me to go on the next trip along with my younger brothers. I saw bodies torn into pieces, pieces of my friends. Yahia was burned. I also got burned, wounded in my chest and hands, and my right ear was injured, I can't hear with it, I use the left now. Many of my friends died.… [There are] too many for me to mention all of them. They are all from the same neighborhood, the Grand Mosque neighborhood.”

The war in Yemen is led by Saudi Arabia, which is a major purchaser of General Dynamic weapons. Although there has not been an in-depth investigation into pinpointing the company’s involvement in the killing, General Dynamics plays a major role in the war by selling its weapons to Saudi Arabia without regard to how it will be used. Even though there was an attempt by the U.S. Congress to end support of the Saudi-led war on Yemen[15], it does not account for the large fingerprint General Dynamics and our investments play on the war in Yemen. Though there is not a precise number of people who have died from the conflict, the death toll from the war is regularly reported at 10,000 dead in less than four years[16].

In addition to the school bus bombing, we are concerned about the massive humanitarian crisis that has unfolded and its effect on future generations. The war has created the largest crisis on the planet, putting nearly 14 million people on the brink of starvation[17]. Because of the unending violence, there are restrictions of movement into remote areas, making it difficult to provide assistance[18]. According to a report published by UNICEF in December 2018[19]:

  • More than 3 million children were born in Yemen since the conflict began.
  • Nearly 2 million children are out of school, including almost half a million who dropped out since the conflict escalated in March 2015.
  • Health workers and teachers have been only partially paid for over a year, affecting education for 4.5 million children. Less than half of health facilities are fully functional.
  • At the end of September 2017, 256 schools were reported totally destroyed, 150 schools were occupied by displaced people, and 23 by armed groups.

As educators, our hearts ache every time we learn a child is being restricted from the basic human right of an education. However, in this insistence, the most unspeakable crime has been committed. We refuse to be complicit in the war in Yemen and the countless deaths and the displacement of children brought on by our investments in General Dynamics.

We, the undersigned CalSTRS members, demand CalSTRS:

Immediate and complete divestment from General Dynamics;

Review for consideration the divestment from other defense contractors contributing weapons to the war in Yemen: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman;

Sincerely,

Susan Harman, CalSTRS member
Susan Witka, CalSTRS member

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References:

[1] Nytimes.com. (2019). 44 Small Graves Stir Questions About U.S. Policy in Yemen. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/15/world/middleeast/saudi-yemen-bomb-bus-children.html [Accessed 5 Jan. 2019].

[2] Borger, J. (2019). US supplied bomb that killed 40 children on Yemen school bus. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/19/us-supplied-bomb-that-killed-40-children-school-bus-yemen [Accessed 5 Jan. 2019].

[3] (2018, September). Thomson Financial. Retrieved January 5, 2019.

[4] Aljazeera.com. (2018). Who are the world's biggest arms companies?. [online] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/world-biggest-arms-companies-171007084157108.html [Accessed 26 Dec. 2018].

[5] Statista.com (2018) Revenue of General Dynamics in 2017, by major products and services. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/261145/revenue-of-general-dynamics-by-major-products-and-services/ [Accessed 4 Jan 2019].

[6] Investigate.afsc.org. (2018). General Dynamics Corp | AFSC Investigate. [online] Available at: https://investigate.afsc.org/company/general-dynamics [Accessed 30 Dec. 2018].

[7] Msn.com. (2018). Countries Buying the Most Weapons From the US Government. [online] Available at: https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/countries-buying-the-most-weapons-from-the-us-government/ar-AAnhTh3 [Accessed 26 Dec. 2018].

[8] Iraq Business News. (2018). General Dynamics Wins $93m Iraq Ammunition Contract. [online] Available at: http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2017/11/06/general-dynamics-wins-93m-iraq-ammunition-contract/ [Accessed 30 Dec. 2018].

[9] The Globe and Mail. (2018). Light armoured vehicles shipped to Saudi Arabia despite Saint John protests. [online] Available at: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-light-armoured-vehicles-shipped-to-saudi-arabia-despite-saint-john/ [Accessed 26 Dec. 2018].

[10] Macias, A. (2018). Limits on arms sales to Saudi Arabia would likely have little impact on US defense firms' revenue. [online] CNBC. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/26/saudi-arms-sale-limits-would-have-slight-impact-on-us-defense-firms.html [Accessed 26 Dec. 2018].

[11] Nytimes.com (2019) Saudi Strikes, American Bombs, Yemeni Suffering. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/12/27/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-war-tactics-yemen-humanitarian-crisis.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes

[12] Cbsnews.com. (2018). U.S. defense companies dodge flak on Saudi Arabia weapons sales. [online] Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/u-s-defense-conractors-lockeed-raytheon-boeing-general-dynamics-northrop-comment-on-saudi-arabia-weapons-sales/ [Accessed 30 Dec. 2018].

[13] Nytimes.com. (2018). 44 Small Graves Stir Questions About U.S. Policy in Yemen. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/15/world/middleeast/saudi-yemen-bomb-bus-children.html [Accessed 30 Dec. 2018].

[14] Yemen: Coalition Bus Bombing Apparent War Crime. (2018, October 23). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/02/yemen-coalition-bus-bombing-apparent-war-crime#

[15] Weisbrot, M. (2018). Congress is finally pushing the US to withdraw from Yemen. It's about time | Mark Weisbrot. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/30/congress-finally-pushing-us-withdraw-yemen [Accessed 30 Dec. 2018].

[16] The Independent. (2018). 'The Yemen war death toll is five times higher than we think – we can't shrug off our responsibilities any longer'. [online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/yemen-war-death-toll-saudi-arabia-allies-how-many-killed-responsibility-a8603326.html [Accessed 30 Dec. 2018].

[17] Karasz, P. (2018, November 21). 85,000 Children in Yemen May Have Died of Starvation. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/21/world/middleeast/yemen-famine-children.html

[18] Anon, (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/world/yemen-famine-crisis/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.11337ea9f3af [Accessed 30 Dec. 2018].

[19] Unicef.org. (2018). 3 million children born into war in Yemen. [online] Available at: https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/3-million-children-born-war-yemen [Accessed 30 Dec. 2018].

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