Alliant is firm in not engaging the rhetorical enemy
Part Two of Two
Published August 28, 2004 Minneapolis StarTribune

By Jeremy Iggers, StarTribune

Last week's column about peace activists arrested for trespassing at the Edina headquarters of weapons maker Alliant Techsystems drew various responses from readers. The activists were seeking a meeting with company executives to discuss Alliant's manufacture of depleted uranium munitions.

Jane, Mike, John and John just prior to walking up the driveway of ATK corporate HQ to ask for an appointment.
–image ©
"The simple answer to your ethical question was answered by my dad many years ago -- 'two wrongs never make a right' -- case closed," wrote one reader. "No matter how badly the other person screws up, doing something wrong because of it ... only makes things worse. I hope all those protesters go to jail for a long time."

Robert Burns of Edina pointed out that Alliant doesn't just supply the needs of the U.S. military; it maintains sales offices in 40 countries around the world, actively seeking customers. And he noted that Alliant also makes cluster bombs. "Some of these have been dropped on Iraq cities, and they kill indiscriminately," Burns wrote. (A report last year by Amnesty International supports Burns' contention, denouncing the dropping of cluster bombs on an Iraqi city as "a grave violation of international law.")

When I contacted Alliant for a response to the peace activists' concerns, company spokesman Bryce Hallowell issued the following statement:
"We conduct our business in compliance with all federal statutes and international codes of conduct. It is our intention to provide U.S. forces with the most effective weaponry available anywhere in the world ...To suggest that U.S. forces be forced to engage the enemy with inferior equipment is so far out of our stream of consciousness at ATK that it is not worth debating. But fringe elements such as this don't want to engage in the facts, nor do they want to engage in a constructive dialogue. This is a disinformation campaign being waged by a fringe element, so again, nothing constructive or productive would ever come from meeting with them."

I asked Hallowell how he could know that nothing productive could come of talking. He explained that Miles' group descends from the old Honeywell Project, and directed me to look at its Web site ( for evidence of their ideological orientation. Next I asked whether Alliant executives ever met with any religious or community groups to discuss concerns about depleted uranium. "Not as far as I am aware of," Hallowell said.

So I suggested that if Alliant executives didn't want to discuss these issues with "fringe elements," perhaps they would discuss them with me.

No such luck. "I am not going to go very far down that road with you," Hallowell told me. Could I speak to other Alliant Tech executives about their ethical auditing practices? "I am the spokesman," Hallowell responded firmly.

Then I raised the issue of public accountability. Hallowell responded that Alliant is publicly traded, and that anyone who buys shares in the company can attend a shareholder meeting and express their views.

I explained that I had a different sense of the public in mind, though: the larger society of which Alliant is a part. Hallowell then suggested that anyone who disagreed with U.S. foreign policy could contact their members of Congress.

After last week's column appeared, Hallowell issued another statement, which reads as follows: "ATK respects the views and opinions of all Americans. As a public company though, we can not serve as a forum for debate on national policy. ATK proudly helps provide the means by which our men and women in uniform defend this country and the rights of our citizens. It is our sole focus and will remain so."

Of course, that doesn't address the question of the company's responsibilities, either. And what seems clear so far is that the company does not feel any obligation to justify its practices to anyone.

Does Alliant have any moral responsibility for how its weapons are used? I believe it does. The fact that the making and sale of these weapons is legal doesn't make it morally right. Moral responsibility for our actions and their consequences is something that individuals and corporations cannot surrender or delegate to anybody else, including our government.

Does that mean that Alliant's manufacture and sales of lethal weapons is immoral? Not necessarily. That question can only be answered by looking carefully at how the weapons are used. But it does mean that Alliant has a responsibility to continuously monitor that use and to ensure that its sales meet ethical criteria as well as legal ones. Given that we are all limited in our moral perspective, it seems to me that if Alliant really takes its moral responsibilities seriously, it should seek the opinions of its critics, and listen to them respectfully, rather than have them arrested.

Agree? Disagree? Join the conversation online at

Send your comments, criticisms and ethical dilemmas to Jeremy Iggers via email.

© copywrite 2004 Minneapolis StarTribune

Part One - click here
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