by P.S. Barber
Bruegel painted the banal innocence of unawareness: Icarus plunges head-first into the Mediterranean’s watery womb, errant feathers flutter as two splayed legs kick near the frame’s edge, disappear into darkening seas — a catastrophe unnoticed while the rest of the world goes blandly and blindly about its day; ploughman, shepherd, fisherman, the moneyed merchant ships under full sail — to each, the unseen fall of Icarus is insignificant.
A similar indifference holds true for America’s bloody involvement in the daily mass killings taking place in the Middle East’s poorest country, Yemen. Check the news – there’s practically a press blackout when it comes to U.S. complicity in Yemen’s civil war and the daily bombings of innocent civilians, including the use of illegal cluster bombs manufactured in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
In the media’s glut of real and “fake” news, there’s little mention of the wars’ effect on Yemen’s neighboring countries and the imminent famine of 20 million people along the horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Already 3 years into a devastating drought, the region’s evolving humanitarian crisis is leading to the largest refugee-migration in history.
Most of the good people in Venice, distracted by the quotidian demands of life, are like Bruegel’s working-stiffs more than the rich owners of sailing ships (Google, Snapchat, et al.); but we all should recognize that, while we argue about gentrification, eastern Africa stands to lose an entire generation; we’ll say more about Venice as a progressive force and how to persuade our local wealthy businesses to help raise social awareness, in a bit.
But back to U.S. involvement in Yemen’s civil war and the humanitarian crisis you won’t see on the evening news: tens-of-thousands of civilian lives already lost; one million children facing famine as 14 million more Yemenis go hungry in a country of only 25 million; another 10-thousand children die annually from preventable diseases as cholera spreads; 4 million civilians are displaced and seeking refuge; over 100 schools and hospitals purposely bombed in 2016 alone, including Doctors Without Borders, who finally had to pull-out for their own safety; more currently, due to a Saudi-led military blockade, half the nation’s civilians are being deprived of water, food, and electricity.
Now, it’s not like the U.S. government doesn’t pay attention to Yemen: it’s America who supplies Saudi Arabia, our great Arab ally in the region, the endless array of bombs and planes (as well as the technical training and know-how) to blast their destitute neighbor back into the Stone Age.
The Stone Age, where many of the regions conflicts began and let’s face it, ideally belong: but millennia of tribal enmities, not the least of which is the ancient and ardent hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims, drives this civil war with no end in sight. And while the U.S. press generally turns a blind eye to the slaughter our government enables, other entities are taking notice.
The United Nations and International courts have declared that the United States by its “direct involvement” is possibly guilty of War Crimes in supplying the Saudis with, “practical assistance, encouragement or moral support.” A 2013 U.N. War Crimes trial established a precedent holding secondary countries liable for civilian atrocities, even without direct involvement. Obama Administration lawyers were reportedly worried about the “legal blowback” of the U.S. being a “co-belligerent” under international law; and so the lawyers worked to limit “U.S. exposure” to the Geneva Convention Laws of Armed Conflict. Ironically and hypocritically, this very legal idea of “direct involvement” was used by the United States to hold detainees at Gitmo without rights: talk about pigeons coming home to roost.
Gore Vidal once named our republic the “United States of Amnesia.” An apt moniker since Americans generally have no memory of their own history, much less an awareness of other countries’ pasts or our nation’s imperialist leanings which often lead to military machinations in those sovereign nations.
After WWII, the United States along with Britain and France, began to divvy up the globe. In the Middle East, oil was an unambiguous desire; Saudi Arabia, with one-fifth of the world’s oil, was the crown jewel. So a conscious and fateful decision was made to reject those nations exploring secular democracies and instead support the Saudi Kingdom with their vast reserves of petroleum. That also meant acquiescing to the Saudi Wahhabist ideology, a cultural and political Sunni extremism that by all standards of human rights in the 21st Century, is abysmal and virulently anti-democratic.
Today, it is Sunni Saudi Arabia and not Shia Iran that is the largest funder of terrorism against the West, and of Madrassas which radicalize the susceptible; it is primarily Saudi Arabia that funds jihadists across the globe in their grotesque acts; Saudis regularly behead people publicly, impose Sharia Law at home, and internationally support radical Islamism with both means and material. It went barely reported, but WikiLeak-disseminated State Department cables confirm Saudi reluctance to turn off the cash-spigot financing attacks against the West.
As our bombs fall on innocent civilian populations in the name of protecting a diminishing resource which poisons the atmosphere and disastrously alters our world’s climate, the United States is considering a 300-million weapons package to Saudi Arabia. This will immediately up the calculus for mass violence in Yemen (the U.S. has sold Saudi Arabia 119-billion of armaments since 2009); and still, U.S. troops are stationed in Prince Sultan Air Base (since 1990 and the 1st Iraq War), those troops ostensibly the reason behind the September 11th attacks against America. Now, nothing will ever justify those terrible attacks, but it’s also essential to recognize that nothing political happens in a vacuum.
As I stated earlier, in the United States of Amnesia our murderous actions go unmentioned: out of sight, out of mind. During the Obama administration, for instance, internationally-illegal CIA drone strikes in Yemen and elsewhere became a daily occurrence, eventuating in what Noam Chomsky calls, “a global assassination campaign.” Hundreds of civilians were killed in these illegal bombings; it was swept under the rug. But let’s face it, most Americans feel that drone strikes are better than “boots-on-the-ground” – as if those were our only choices; but under-reported, there isn’t even a debate about illegal drones.
It’s easier when the violence goes unnoticed, as in Yemen. W. H. Auden wrote about it in his poem, “Musee Des Beaux Arts” —
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters; how well they understood
It’s human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
Walking dully along…
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
So what can we do when there’s a sociopath in the White House overturning long-held human rights protections, cutting U.S. aid to NGOs who help the world’s needy, all the while demonizing the weakest of the weak – refugees fleeing violence – situations which America often helps create, but never acknowledges.
In this unsound Administration where “crazy” is the daily fare, bombast will certainly lead to more bombs in order to Make America Great Again. Illustrating this machismo not long ago in a callous cynical act of cowardice, five-time draft-dodger Donald Trump (betwixt soup and entrée at his rococo gold palace Mar A Lago) ordered an ill-planned ground attack in Yemen which unnecessarily cost the lives of numerous innocent women and children, as well as the life of Navy Seal Ryan Owens. The botched mission didn’t stop Trump from publicly displaying Owen’s weeping widow at a joint speech to Congress, heaving his chest and justifying his failure as a great success: “Look Ma, big hands!” And now, while U.S. bombs and planes pound the poorest nation in the Middle East into oblivion, Trump threatens even more ground raids.
And while America’s drone and bombing campaigns have done little to specifically stop radical Islamism, it’s undeniable that the violence has created more victims seeking revenge against the West. And in the vacuum created by Yemen’s civil war – some say a shadow war between Iran and Saudi Arabia – ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have set down deep roots, taking territory, greatly adding to the civilian catastrophe. All the while, America and Saudi Arabia have no shame in publicly naming themselves, “The Friends of Yemen.”
So as progressive Venetians – the kind of people who don’t turn away — we have to wonder what average residents can possibly do to stop U.S. involvement in Yemen, or forestall the famine threatening that country as well as Somalia (inching towards stability), South Sudan (in its own civil war of ethnic cleansing), and Nigeria (where Boko Haram holds power).
It’s important to remember that “famine” is a technical term for “tipping the scales” and that there are already millions upon millions starving in eastern Africa. “Famine” is merely language for what’s around the corner when the disaster hits its merciless critical mass and can no longer be stopped. So acting now will not only saves millions of innocent lives but, for hardcore capitalists, it’s also cost-effective in the long run.
The United Nations calculates that 6-billion dollars is immediately needed to stop the oncoming famine, which they acknowledge is an “entirely predictable and eminently avoidable” humanitarian disaster; there is less than 2-percent of those needed funds in the U.N. pipeline right now.
So I’d like to suggest several possible avenues of action:
Firstly, as Bruegel’s working-stiffs, we might turn to our city’s wealthy ship owners in order to support our political goals: let’s start with Google. Our billionaire neighbor has a corporate department called “Public Policy and Government Affairs.” Under Google’s PPGA’s “code of conduct,” they state that the “core” of their Code is the maxim, “Don’t Be Evil.”
Well… if mass murdering children each day, subjecting them to starvation and disease, orphaning them, forcing them and their families to flee 500-pound bombs falling from the sky, destroying everything human – if that ain’t evil, I don’t know what is.
So unless Google has a Malthusian perspective of the world – and that’d certainly be evil – they can’t seek refuge in “political neutrality.” It would amount to the same thing as turning away to purposefully let people die; not unlike, though the inverse, of the U.S. Government and its “direct involvement.” Nonetheless, Google incurs the moral culpability which accompanies willful indifference if it turns away from Yemen and Africa’s imminent crisis; to simply “go on with their doggy life” would go directly against Google’s stated tenet “Don’t Do Evil.”
I propose that every Venetian who’s concerned, to contact REBECCA PROZAN at Google’s San Francisco PPGA offices; Ms. Prozan’s history appears progressive, having worked with Willy Brown and more recently, Kamala Harris. Ms. Prozan’s personal website is: Rebeccaprozan.com; her Twitter account is @prozan. Urge Ms. Prozan to use Googles PPGA in advancing the following:
1. Push Congress to enforce a weapons embargo against Saudi Arabia and stop the impending arms package.
2. Push Congress to stop Saudi blockade of Yemen’s main port
3. Publicly condemn U.S. involvement in Yemen.
4. Lead financing for the billions needed to prevent African famine.
Meanwhile and simultaneously, another route is to contact our Representative in Washington, TED LIEU; Representative Lieu has openly stated his opposition to U.S. involvement in the Saudi bombing of Yemen; Lieu is a progressive and seems to listen seriously to his constituents.
Here’s Liu’s address and number in Los Angeles: 5005 Wilshire Blvd. #310 Los Angeles, CA 90036 (323) 651-1040
Additionally, there are numerous non-profits which donate to Yemen and Africa famine relief including: UNHCR (United Nations refuge agency); Human Rights Action Center (HRAC) in D.C.; and UNICEF.