Within a recent ten-day period, two groups of innocent Muslims were killed simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The first incident, a group of 50 people killed by a single individual who shot them in two different mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, received far more American media attention than the second, in which 13 died. The lesser media coverage of the second event probably had far less to do with the smaller number of victims, however, than with the identity of their killer or killers. Or, more properly speaking, with the nationality of the killer, the actual identity or identities being unknown. The 13 victims were Afghan civilians killed by one or more errant American airstrikes on the outskirts of the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, on March 23.
In the first case, we have the name of the known killer and we know how to cope with this: We call him a murderer, an extremist, a terrorist, a racist, a white supremacist, and rightly condemn his motives and ideology. In the second case, we have no names and we never will. We will not call any persons responsible for the deaths murderers, extremists, terrorists, racists, or white supremacists. We will not condemn their motives or ideology. They were, after all, acting on orders. Orders presumed to have been issued somehow in the defense of our country even though Kunduz lies 6,774 miles away from Washington DC. We really don't much know how to think about this, and so we don't think about it much.
Although, at 8,904 miles distant, Christchurch lies even farther from Washington, a large American audience took a great interest in how the New Zealand government dealt with the situation. Many probably contrasted the response of the country's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern favorably with what they imagined might have been the reaction of our President Donald Trump in a similar situation: The combination of her decisiveness and a parliamentary system facilitating prompt action led to the country's banning military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles only 72 hours after the attack. The deaths in Kunduz will involve no change in American policy, so far as we know.
It is small consolation to their survivors, of course, but all 50 of the New Zealand victims are known. All have been pictured and profiled in the news media, including the four under 18 years of age. So far as the Afghanistan victims goes, no names or photos have appeared, and likely never will appear in the American press. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) does tell us that the victims were internal refugees, "part of the same extended family whom were displaced by fighting elsewhere in the country," and that "10 of those killed were children."
For some, the comparison of these two incidents may seem misplaced. After all, the New Zealand shooter fully intended to take the lives of innocent people, while the American pilot or pilots did not the Afghan casualties were victims of the "fog of war." Indeed, it is the case that none of the Americans on the scene is responsible for the policies that killed these latest innocent victims, but there are people in Washington who are from the successive presidents who have presided over this 18-year war, on down to the individual members of Congress who have enabled it by voting to fund it.
In a war of no discernible purpose, how long can our leaders get away with saying, "our bad" after each inevitable "mistaken" bombing run when they say anything at all? The circumstances leading up to the fatal airstrikes are particularly damning in regard to any claims of rationality remaining behind the continuation of this seemingly forever war. The airstrikes followed the second firefight in 10 days between American troops and soldiers of our Afghan allies. You read that right not shooting between Americans and the Taliban enemy, but between Americans and Afghan government soldiers. The New York Times reported that after Americans soldiers got out to repair a broken down armored vehicle, "an Afghan soldier nearby opened fire on them."
Unfortunately, this latest incident is not at all the worst instance of the loss of innocent civilian lives in and around Kunduz. On October 3, 2015, American airstrikes killed 42 people in a hospital that Me'decins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) operated in the city. On September 4, 2009, at least 90 civilians were killed in airstrikes about seven kilometers outside the city. And 14 children were killed in an American bombing about four miles outside the city on July 19, 2018. The most recent bombings are part of a pattern, as UNAMA reports "a sharp increase in civilian casualties from aerial and search operations in 2018 compared to 2017 ... a 24 per cent overall increase in civilian casualties by pro-Government forces," and "child casualties from air strikes which have been increasing every year since 2014."
So, while we should obviously mourn the victims of the senseless New Zealand shootings and all other such incidents, we Americans need to realize that the lives of the Afghans victimized by individual errors that are part of a senseless war matter every bit as much. If we don't, this war may drone on endlessly.