Here’s a what-if that continues to haunt me. What if some disturbed “lone wolf,” “inspired” by the Islamic State’s online propagandists, went out with an assault rifle or two and — San Bernardino-style — shot up a wedding, killing the bride and killing or wounding many others at the ceremony? Let’s posit as well the sort of casualties that did come out of the San Bernardino attack: 14 dead and 22 wounded. It doesn’t take a prophet or a media expert to know what the results would be: steroidal San Bernardino-style coverage 24/7 that would go on for weeks. It would be the horror story of the century. We would experience the tears, the accounts of wounded survivors, the funerals, the testimony of grief counselors, families in pain, and of course endless interviews with TV terror experts and pundits of every sort. You can imagine the role it would play in any future presidential campaign debates, what politicians in Washington would say, and so on. The thirst for revenge over such an act would be unquenchable. It would be seen, to chose a word Donald Trump has favored, as yet another revelation of the thoroughly “medieval” nature of our enemies (though with weaponry that was anything but).
And yet here’s the thing that, after all these years, continues to puzzle me: such a wedding slaughter has indeed occurred. In fact, it’s happened again and again in the twenty-first century — just with a somewhat different cast of characters, next to no media coverage, and just about no one in the United States paying the slightest attention. I’m speaking about the eight times between December 2001 and December 2013 when U.S. Air Force planes or, in one case, an American drone attacked wedding parties in three countries in the Greater Middle East — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen — slaughtering brides, grooms, bridal parties, and scores of revelers. By my rough count (and it speaks volumes that TomDispatch is the only place in these years which has even tried to keep track of or count up these deaths), almost 300 Afghans, Iraqis, and Yemenis died in these slaughters, including in one case even the musicians playing at the wedding. Since 2013, two more wedding parties have been eviscerated, again to next to no notice here — both in Yemen by the U.S.-backed Saudi air force in its indiscriminate air war against Houthi rebels.
In our world, despite the fact that most of these weddings were clearly targeted “by mistake,” with not a terrorist suspect in sight, no conclusions are drawn. None of it is considered “medieval.” None of it counts as “barbaric.” (Only one of the eight incidents, in which a number of children died, even resulted in an official American apology.) None of it is worth 24/7 coverage for weeks, or any significant coverage at all. Can there be a more striking record of how little the deaths of civilians in Washington’s endless war on terror have fazed Americans or how little such deaths and the feelings of the grieving parents, siblings, children, relatives, friends, and neighbors left behind have been on the American mind? Few here seem to find any of this strange. That’s why TomDispatch regular Mattea Kramer’s piece today particularly speaks to me. She is the rare soul who finds an equivalency between our natural feelings of grief and loss and horror at the slaughter of American civilians, of those we care for, and the deaths of the distant victims of our wars.