A Thought Experiment in Taking Out Wedding Parties

Pakistani demonstrators shout slogans beside a burning US flag during a protest in Multan on January 3, 2013, against the dro
Pakistani demonstrators shout slogans beside a burning US flag during a protest in Multan on January 3, 2013, against the drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas. Pakistani warlord Mullah Nazir, who sent men to fight NATO troops in Afghanistan, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan along with five loyalists, local security officials said. He was the main militant commander in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt considered a base for Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamist militants, and a powerful elder in the Wazir tribe. AFP PHOTO/S.S MIRZA (Photo credit should read S.S MIRZA/AFP/Getty Images)

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

Here's a little thought experiment: imagine that we're in Kansas (without Toto) and a bridal party in three rented limos is heading down a highway toward a church where a wedding is about to take place. Suddenly, a small out-of-control plane plummets into those limos killing the bride, the mother of the bride, and five of the seven bridesmaids; 15 others are wounded. Bear with me here, if this particular method of wedding slaughter seems a little farfetched. After all, we don't (yet) have drones armed with Hellfire missiles patrolling American skies that could take out such a caravan.

So all we have is a small plane and seven dead women. Tell me, though, that such a situation wouldn't make horrified 24/7 headlines and get top TV news billing for days, that the cable news channels wouldn't be interviewing crisis counselors and wedding planners around the clock, and that they wouldn't stick with it through the tearful interviews with the bridegroom, who was practically at the altar when his bride-to-be died, and the similarly tearful funerals to come. Who can doubt for a moment that such a story would dominate the news -- as, for instance, happened on October 25th when a woman ploughed her car into a crowd, killing four and injuring 50 at Oklahoma State University's homecoming parade? On the second night of coverage of the story on NBC Nightly News, it still came in well ahead of a breaking news report from Afghanistan and Pakistan: that more than 200 people had just died in an earthquake, including at least 12 girls killed in a panicked flight from their school.

Now, take a moment to think about something you probably never saw on your TV screen. I'm talking about not one but at least eight wedding parties wiped out in whole or in part between December 2001 and December 2013 in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen by U.S. air power, and evidently two more barely a week apart this fall by the U.S.-backed Saudi air force, also in Yemen. In the first of those, two missiles reportedly tore through wedding tents in a village on the Red Sea, killing more than 130 celebrants, including women and children; in the second, a house 60 miles south of Yemen's capital, Sana'a, "where dozens of people were celebrating," was hit leaving at least 28 dead. Cumulatively, over the years (by my informal count) close to 450 Iraqis, Afghans, and Yemenis have died in these disasters and many more were wounded. Each of the eviscerated weddings made the news somewhere in our world (or I wouldn't have noticed), though with rare exceptions they never made the headlines and, of course, never did any of them get anything close to the 24/7 media spotlight we've grown so used to; nor, except perhaps at this website, has anyone attended to these disasters as a cumulative, repetitive set of events.

Again, try to imagine the reaction here if multiple wedding parties were being wiped out repetitively, always in more or less the same way. I hardly need tell you what a hullabaloo would result. In this country, even single acts of horror against Americans or by those we officially loathe regularly get such attention, as with the grisly beheadings of the Islamic State. And that is certainly appropriate. Even after all these years, what still seems strange to me, however, is that we -- Washington, the media, the public -- seem so cold-bloodedly unfazed by horrors repetitively committed in our name in distant lands.

All of this came to my mind once again when TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener filed her latest piece, "One Night in Kunduz, One Morning in New York," and in it I could feel -- and identify with -- her frustration over the attention we regularly don't give those we kill in our war zones.