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Tomgram: Allegra Harpootlian, Drone Strikes and Tears

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

It wasn't until this sentence in the sixth paragraph of the September 23rd New York Times article on the killing of Afghan civilians that the wedding slaughter was even mentioned: "But Haji Attaullah Afghan, head of the provincial council in Helmand, said a two-vehicle wedding convoy was fired upon by military helicopters, and that civilians were killed in both vehicles." And it took 17 paragraphs before it was actually described in any more detail: "Abdul Motalib, a villager in Helmand, said on Monday that he was traveling in a two-vehicle wedding party convoy in Musa Qala the night before when military helicopters opened fire. He said the party was on its way to the bride's home. The attack killed 15 women and children in one vehicle and five men in another just after the vehicles had stopped and turned on their flashers as the helicopters dropped flares."

No mention, however, was made of the fact that, in the era of Washington's war on terror, that was hardly the first wedding party U.S. air power had taken out. In fact, by December 2013, when a "surgical strike" by a CIA drone, supposedly targeting al-Qaeda militants, destroyed a similar wedding convoy in Yemen ("Scorched vehicles and body parts were left scattered on the road..."), TomDispatch -- and, as far as I know, this website alone -- had already counted seven such weddings, obliterated in whole or in part, killing brides, grooms, guests of every sort, even musicians in Afghanistan and Iraq, with perhaps 250 dead and many other casualties. (One of those slaughters was committed in arid western Iraq in May 2004 by the planes of the 1st Marine Division, then commanded by Major General James Mattis. When asked about the incident, he responded: "How many people go to the middle of the desert... to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?")

It is -- or at least should be -- enough to make you weep. And, in fact, that's just what often happens to TomDispatch regular Allegra Harpootlian as she does her daily work. But let her tell you how, in her life, America's wars come home in the most personal way possible. Tom

Why I Weep While I Work
Or What It Means to Experience America's Wars From a Computer Screen Away
By Allegra Harpootlian

Think back to the last time you cried at work. Did the tears come after your boss sent you a curt email? Or when you accidentally cc'd (instead of bcc'd) everyone? Maybe you just had a really, really long day and that one last little misstep pushed you over the edge.

In my case, I cry at work -- often quite profusely -- about once every two weeks. And that's if I'm lucky. The past couple of months? More times than I can count. And not over a nasty email, a rude response, or a mean coworker (of which, I'm proud to say, I have none). No, I'm crying for a simple enough reason: because my job in communications breaks my heart. It does so over and over again. And yet I stay. I keep doing it, tears and all, because I want to make a difference, because I just hate the world I'm trying to change and how cruelly it treats so many people. And I cry because some days (most days, perhaps) I'm not sure I can make a difference at all.

So, what could cause this public relations professional to get that upset? Well, I think it has something to do with what I work on, day in and day out. Most so-called PR flacks I know have portfolios that include things like consumer goods, public health campaigns, or corporations in crisis. Not me. My focus at work is on America's wars and how they are being waged.

As for the crying, it could have something to do with the uplifting -- I'm kidding, of course (if you can kid about such things) -- Google alerts I receive every single morning, afternoon, and evening. They arrive like clockwork in my inbox just waiting for me to open them and scan the headlines for mentions of drone strikes, airstrikes, or civilian casualties.

On a good day, those headlines in my inbox are, if not uplifting, at least irrelevant to the work I'm doing, which is always a relief: stock market updates or, say, the results of a Jamaican race horse someone thought to name Drone Strike.

But on bad days... On bad days, the e-newsletter I write is filled with weddings that were turned into funerals, civilian death counts that only continue to rise, government denials of wrongdoing, and angry questions like "How could they do this to us?" I wish I could tell you those bad days are rare, but given America's wars that would be a lie. In all honesty, I don't recall a single week since I started working on the issue of drones in March 2017 that they haven't poured in.

For example, in just one week this September, news outlets reported that:

* a US drone strike killed at least 30 farmers harvesting pine-nuts in Afghanistan;

* a US-backed strike in a different region of Afghanistan hit a wedding party killing upwards of 40 civilians;

* a BBC report alleged that, on average, more than a dozen civilians died every day in Afghanistan;

* a TRT World investigation presented evidence that in the span of three months this year, U.S. air strikes killed 21 civilians in Somalia;

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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