From Newtown to Pakistan: Violence against children is inexcusable no matter where it happens
When I watch the media coverage of the six and seven year old’s mercilessly slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I tear up. Like most everyone else around the country, I begin to wonder about their last moments, the sheer horror they must have felt seeing their teachers and friends gunned down, the agonizing screams and cries, a kind of terror that no one should have to encounter especially children.
But, unlike most Americans, I get a knot in the pit of my stomach over the routine violence my country perpetrates against children abroad that is frequently dismissed as acceptable and even necessary. I’m of course referring to the countless little ones killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Since 2004, 176 children have been killed in US drone strikes in Pakistan alone, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Each of these children, just faceless and nameless statistics in the US media if they are mentioned at all, have families who, like those in Newtown, have been devastated by their loss. The same is true for the 34 Palestinian children killed by Israel’s US-backed assault on the Gaza Strip last month. There were 1,396 children either injured or killed in Afghanistan in the first six months of this year thanks to our war, an average of 4.8 children per day. On December 17, 2009, nearly three years ago to the day of the Newtown school massacre, a US drone strike killed 22 children in Yemen, the youngest being a one year old.
These young lives were cut short, not by a deranged psychopath, but by policies supported by a majority of US citizens. Perhaps this says more about the media than it does about the average American since they rarely hear about the child casualties of our wars. Some in the US media have publicly expressed their belief that the lives of children in the countries we are bombing matter less than the lives of American children. This sentiment espoused by Time’s Joe Klein on national television when he deemed the killing of Pakistani four-year-old’s by US drone strikes as an acceptable consequence to keeping American four-year-old’s safe. Not only does Klein present an unbelievably false dichotomy of “either American children die or Pakistani children die”, he bases his argument on the assumption that brown, non-American lives are disposable.
Yet Klein’s argument is moderate compared to comments made by a senior army officer. Earlier this month, the Military Times published a piece titled, “Some Afghan kids aren’t bystanders“ about the October killing of three Afghan children in a drone strike as they were gathering dung for fuel. The article portrays Afghan children as dangerous, pointing to Taliban recruitment of kids as proof, and quotes Army Lt. Col. Marion Carrington, who says the US is on the lookout for “children with potential hostile intent”. This article would have us believe that Afghan children are all potential terrorists anyway, so who cares when they die? Again, these are children we’re talking about.
But this shameful dismissal of child slayings isn’t isolated to those killed by drone strikes. After Sgt. Robert Bales viscously massacred 16 Afghan civilians, 9 of whom were children, the media coverage focused on the potential consequences for US power rather than the carnage. FAIR’s Peter Hart explains:
It is not that U.S. media failed to cover the atrocity. But the tone of the coverage placed considerable weight on the damage these deaths would do to the war effort (FAIR Media Advisory, 3/12/12). Questions were posed like, “Could this reignite a new anti-American backlash in the unstable region?” One headline stated, “Killings Threaten Afghan Mission.” USA Today actually had on its front page, “Patriot Now Stands Accused in Massacre.”
Seeing the atrocity this way prioritizes issues like national security–and obscures the fact that children were killed in their sleep, and that the person alleged to have killed them was a member of our military. This particular incident is, in some ways, just a more horrifying version of many other U.S. attacks that killed children in Afghanistan, or the drone attacks that have killed hundreds in Pakistan.
It’s understandable that the shooting at Sandy Hook is more relatable to Americans, particularly the white middle and upper classes. In my opinion, that’s why this massacre has hit people in power harder than other shootings, even causing typically pro-gun lawmakers to rethink their position on gun control. The victims look like their children. The neighborhood, the school, even the town of Newtown reminds them of their respective environments, the “safe” suburbs where these kinds of things aren’t supposed to happen. But this doesn’t justify the indifference and at times justification of violence that affects poor children of color whether it be on Chicago’s South Side or in an Afghan village.
What happened in Newtown is unacceptable, but so is the routine slaughter of children who live on the wrong side of the US war machine. Children deserve to not be massacred no matter where they live.