Here’s something that should still stun anyone, but has had no discernible impact in this country. Between December 29, 2001, when B-52 and B-1B bombers killed more than 100 revelers in a village in Paktia Province, Afghanistan, and December 2013, when a drone slaughtered perhaps 15 members of a car caravan headed for a wedding in Yemen, U.S. air power wiped out at least eight wedding parties — brides, grooms, musicians, relatives, celebrating villagers, you name it — in three countries across the Greater Middle East. To the best of my knowledge, only this website has ever tried to either count such incidents up or keep track of them over the years. As I’ve written in the past, if an Islamist terrorist had ever taken out an American wedding party here in the United States, the media coverage would have been overwhelming and unending — and I doubt the event would have been forgotten any time soon, if ever.
In 2004, then-Major General James Mattis caught the spirit of the era perfectly. Responding to reports of the deaths of at least 40 celebrants in an Iraqi wedding party, including women and children, he asked, “How many people go to the middle of the desert… to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?” In fact, the almost- or just-wedded dead across the Greater Middle East never registered here at all. There were certainly individual news stories about such incidents, but no shock, no horror, no self-reflection whatsoever. Assumedly, the departed and instantly forgotten of Washington’s distant wars since September 11, 2001 — a day that will live in infamy, unlike the days when those wedding slaughters occurred — don’t matter a whit to Americans. Today, I doubt that one in a million of us even knows that the U.S. military ever did such things again and again and again.
Sadly, the tradition — if that’s even the word for it — of such wedding slaughters has only continued. In April 2018 and again that July, Saudi air strikes in a war being fought with American planes, bombs, and intelligence assistance took out two Yemeni wedding parties. In the first, at least 23 villagers were killed and many more wounded. (“It took us over a week to find all the body parts,” said one survivor.) In the second, 11 people in a caravan on their way to a wedding were killed, mostly women and children. Add it all up and, in those 10 brutal attacks, hundreds and hundreds of civilians in those three countries have died or been wounded while attending (or heading for) weddings.
Today, Allegra Harpootlian, a media associate at ReThink Media and a specialist on American drone strikes, considers the upsurge in emotion and protest against gun violence, especially school shootings, in this country by a mobilized new generation. In the process, given her professional focus, she asks an all-too-appropriate (and rare) question: When will Americans, young or old, start to think about the civilians that have died in striking numbers in these years of “infinite war” across the Greater Middle East and Africa?