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Andrew Smith discusses how schools in the UK involve the arms industry to teach school children about weapons manufacture and trade. BAE Systems invests tens of millions of pounds in order to improve its image in the eyes of school children

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

BAE Systems, Europe’s largest arms company whose fighter jets are currently being used by Saudi forces in Yemen, they visited four hundred and twenty schools across the UK Last year and prepared lesson plans for children as young as seven. BAE Systems spends tens of millions of pounds per year reaching out to schools, and it is not the only arms company in the UK doing so. Raytheon and Thales have similar programs, but BAE systems is the largest British arms company and is the most prominent in programs for British children.

Let’s watch a few seconds from a promotional video of BAE Systems, their road shows for schools in cooperation with the British Air Force.

SPEAKER 1: My favorite parts were the drones and the robots.

SPEAKER 2: I really liked the show becuase it showed all of us what we should do when we’re grown up.

SPEAKER 3: My favorite was meeting Maya and learning about future technology.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, this is not any different, I think, from the kinds of robotics laboratories we are seeing in our schools sponsored by NASA, the space agency of the government. Now, the Guardian just published an extensive overview of this program and interviewed many people, including our next guest, Andrew Smith and the campaign he runs to end arms industry outreach into our schools. Now, Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, or CAAT, and he has written for a range of political magazines and national newspapers. He joins us today from UK.

Andrew, I thank you so much for joining us today.

ANDREW SMITH: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: Andrew, let’s start off with how pervasive this kind of outreach by BAE Systems and, of course, other arms manufacturers are in terms of their outreach to schools.

ANDREW SMITH: Well, something which arms companies are putting an increased focus on is something we’ve seen a lot more of over recent years. And BAE Systems may well be the company that’s doing it for most, but it’s certainly not the only company. When we think about it arms companies like Raytheon, such as Thales, such as Leonardo, they’re all trying to do the same thing. Because increasingly, schools are becoming corporate battlegrounds for private business who are trying to improve their brand, trying to improve their image and trying to reach out to children.

SHARMINI PERIES: And what is the rationale being used by British Air Force and BAE Systems for this? Why do they say this is an important program for children?

ANDREW SMITH: Well, they say it’s all about promoting careers in science and things like that. But I don’t really think BAE Systems is interested in the quality of education. It’s interested trusted in BAE Systems. And when we look at some of the things that are being done in schools, whether it’s the lesson plans BAE are putting together for children as young as seven, whatever it is the competitions arms companies are having with school students across the country to design drones, design other types of weaponry, whether it’s the promotional materials which are being produced by arms companies like Thales, some of which even have mascots clearly targeted at children.

These things are being done in a really garish, really horrible way. And none of them are talking about the hugely negative consequences that arms companies can have. None of them are highlighting the devastation which BAE’s fighter jets have caused in Yemen, where that three year long bombardment by Saudi forces has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, humanitarian crisis that BAE has profited from. When Raytheon is going into schools, they’re not telling the children about the missiles which they prepare which have- to strike civilian targets up and down and all across Yemen. The arms companies aren’t presenting very terrible, grim, stark realities and the devastating reality of what their deadly products can do.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, some of this takes place here in the U.S. For example, NASA, the national aeronautics and engineering government agency which is highly influenced by arms manufacturers and the military industrial complex, are also in our schools. But there’s a caveat there because it’s NASA, because it’s a government agency. Somehow, it’s pushed to the children as, as you said, as science and technology and learning how to do these terrific things and go to space and learn engineering, essentially. Now, is that how it’s also being promoted? But this program that I’m talking about isn’t targeted at kids that are seven years old. This is more for maybe junior high and high school.

ANDREW SMITH: Well, I think there’s always serious ethical considerations to be made before any kind of private company goes into schools because there’s always going to be issues with what a company is looking for. If a bottom line for private business, whether it BAE here or anybody else, is always profitability, is always the bottom line. And the question always has been asked, what are they getting out of it?

Now, these questions have to be applied to all private companies, but they’re made even more pertinent, even more important when we’re talking about companies that arm and support human-rights-abusing regimes around the world, and specifically to profit from war and conflict around the world. I think there’s a difference when you are talking about government bodies. But even then, schools are fundamental to our society and we should always be asking very tough questions about why people are going into schools and what we’re getting out of it. And those questions have to be asked even moreso when we’re talking about companies like BAE.

SHARMINI PERIES: Andrew, recently, we know that Lockheed Martin manufactured a bomb that was used in order to bomb Yemen. And it hit a school bus and some twenty-nine children, and fifty-one people in all, were killed by this bomb. Now, I’m sure they’re not using images from these bombs in the schools, but parents are obviously aware of what’s happening in places like Yemen and the role of these arms manufacturers. So, what are they doing about resisting this kind of programming in the classroom?

ANDREW SMITH: Well, a lot of parents haven’t been aware that is happening in the first place. A lot of parents simply aren’t aware that arms companies are putting such effort into getting into their children’s classrooms. And the amount of parents who’ve been in touch of us following the publication of the research last week has been striking. We’ve had a lot of parents from all across the UK who have been shocked to discover this is happening.

And Lockheed Martin is the world’s biggest arms company. It has sold arms to almost every human-rights-abusing regime you can possibly think of. And yes, it produced bombs which were used in Yemen which bombed that school bus which killed dozens of children who were returning from a picnic and the bus got blown up by a Lockheed Martin bomb. The Saudi military described it as a legitimate military operation. They’d subsequently done a study afterwards and found that they should never have bombed the bus, which of course anyone else could have told them in the first place.

But to Lockheed Martin, this this kind of terrible bombardment this isn’t a tragedy to them. To them, it’s a business opportunity. To Lockheed Martin, conflict is the bread and butter of their existence, it’s what makes them profitable, it’s what they do. That’s why we have to be asking serious questions about whether or not Lockheed Martin should be allowed into school classrooms. We believe the vast majority of parents would be firmly opposed to the idea, and we hope it’s something which local authorities and schools take action on and stop.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Andrew. Talk about your program. Now, you reach out to schools and governors, headmasters, and try to stop them from collaborating in this cooperation with arms manufacturers. However, I imagine it’s difficult for them to turn down programs which is sold to them as science, technology and engineering by companies like BAE Systems when schools are so underfunded and kids could really benefit from an infusion of funds in this area.

ANDREW SMITH: Well, there are definitely serious funding problems for schools in the UK, and it won’t just be in the UK. It’s all over. There are always serious funding issues. And the austerity program which the government is implementing has only made that worse. But that doesn’t mean the arms companies suddenly become legitimate partners. It doesn’t mean the arms companies should be welcomed into schools. The solution cannot be to invite the most immoral companies in the country into the classroom. It cannot be for arms companies to be playing a role in education. And we don’t believe that it’s something that people in the UK want to see either.

In fact, poll after poll has shown that the overwhelming majority of people all across the UK, over two thirds in fact, oppose arms exports to human-rights-abusing regimes. And that is where Lockheed Martin is getting its money from, that’s what Lockheed Martin does. It sells weapons around the world and it fuels destruction aroung the world. We don’t believe that this is something parents support. We don’t believe that a company should be invited into schools, and we certainly would encourage all schools to decline any offers or invitations which they get from Lockheed Martin or any other company that is profiting from war and conflict around the world.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, do we know the amount of money that is being spent on these types of programs, and is there any way to replace money that the schools obviously need?

ANDREW SMITH: Well, unfortunately, we don’t have a figure because those figures aren’t published. It’s not something which government collects. It’s not something which arms companies publish either. But we do know that it’s a lot of money. We’ve seen that from presentations from BAE, which was quoted in the article in The Guardian, citing tens of millions of pounds. And also, we’ve seen the extent of the work which is being done across schools, where umpteen examples of competitions which were being run across different schools around the country by companies like Raytheon, by companies like Leonardo, by other arms companies who are arming and supporting human-rights-abusing regimes around the world.

And this kind of work isn’t done cheaply. It doesn’t come for free. It’s something which the companies have to put money into. And they wouldn’t be putting money into it if they didn’t think it was in their own interest to do so. This is being governed by self-interest and desire to whitewash and legitimize the terrible atrocities which these companies fuel. It’s not being done because they care about education. It’s being done because they care about their bottom line and they care about their own image and their own reputations.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Andrew. Nothing more exciting than a robotics laboratory or some sort of a drone to fly around your school and your gymnasium for kids. So, we are up against something that, obviously, public schools and public funding should be doing for children in terms of legitimate programming for engineering and science and technology and age-appropriate training. But of course, all of that is now being replaced by these companies having a hand and the ear and the eyes of our children. You have obviously undertaken a massive task here trying to undo that. I thank you for that and I thank you for joining us today.

ANDREW SMITH: Thank you very much.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Andrew Smith is the spokesperson for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, CAAT, which is organising the campaign to Stop the Arms Fair.