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Tomgram: Laura Gottesdiener, The Angel of Death

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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 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. Tom

One Night in Kunduz, One Morning in New York
Two Versions of the U.S. Destruction of a Hospital in Afghanistan
By Laura Gottesdiener

When people ask me what my new job is like, I tell them that I wake up very early and count the dead. When I say "very early," I mean a few minutes after four a.m., as the sky is just softening to the color of faded purple corduroy. By "the dead," I mostly mean people across the world that my government has killed or helped another nation's government kill while I was sleeping.

Once I was a freelance reporter, spending weeks or months covering a single story. Today, I'm a news producer at Democracy Now! and, from the moment I arrive at the office, I'm scouring the wire services for the latest casualties from Washington's war zones. It's a disconcerting job for someone used to reporting stories on the ground. As I cull through the headlines -- "Suspected U.S. drone strike kills 4 militants in Pakistan"; "U.S. troops dispatched to Kunduz to help Afghan forces" -- I've never felt so close to this country's various combat zones. And yet I'm thousands of miles away.

Usually, I try to avoid talking about our wars once I leave the office. After all, what do I know? I wasn't there when the American gunship began firing on that hospital Doctors Without Borders ran in Kunduz, and I didn't get there afterwards either. Nor was I in Yemen's Saada province a few weeks later when a Doctors Without Borders health clinic was bombed.

If you live here and don't listen to Democracy Now!, odds are you didn't even know that second strike happened. How is it possible, I think to myself, that bombing medical facilities isn't front-page news? On that gutted clinic in Yemen, however, I can't tell you much more. I know that the strike was carried out by U.S.-backed, Saudi-led forces, and that it happened only a few days after the Obama administration approved an $11.25 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. But I don't know what the air felt like that evening just before the missile hit the maternity ward.

Still, when your job is to chronicle these wars each morning, how can you not say something? How can you not start writing when our wars become all you think about, something you begin to dream about? How can you not respond when you realize, as I did recently, that the longest of them, the (second) U.S. war in Afghanistan, has stretched on for nearly half my life?

All this is my way of telling you that I need to talk to you about Kunduz.

A Calm Night in October

Like any good story, there's what happened -- and then there's the version you're asked to believe. Let's start with the first one.

On Friday, October 2nd, staff members from the trauma center in Kunduz, Afghanistan, climbed to the roof of that hospital and laid out two large flags with the name of their organization: Medecins Sans Fronti├Ęres (Doctors Without Borders), the Nobel-Prize-winning medical-humanitarian aid organization best known by its French acronym MSF. This wasn't something the workers could have done days earlier. The previous Monday, September 28th, Taliban fighters had unexpectedly seized control of the fifth largest city in Afghanistan, as up to 7,000 government troops and police fled. Over the next days, the Afghan government's efforts to retake the city sparked intense fighting between the Taliban and government troops backed by U.S. Special Operations forces.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("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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