Thanksgiving. An American tradition.
A time when many take stock of the blessings they have in their families, see relatives they haven’t seen in months, gorge themselves on massive feasts, watch some football, and beat each other up the very next day as they hunt for an early Christmas present for themselves.
The Thanksgiving ritual is as American as, well, apple pie.
As we come off yet another Thanksgiving weekend here in America, we are reminded that we truly have much to be thankful for.
This isn’t the case in Yemen. In Yemen, the civilian population continues to be the ravaged by relentless war, and an ongoing Saudi-enforced blockade.
Yemen has been in turmoil since the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings, and has since devolved into further civil war. The Middle East, no stranger to proxy wars, showcases the deadly consequences of disastrous foreign policy in the Yemen conflict.
As Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, Saudi-friendly government forces, and Al-Qaeda all vie for dominance and seek to fill the power vacuum of the impoverished, yet strategically placed nation on the Arabian Peninsula, the citizenry find themselves in caught in the crossfire.
Since 2015, when fighting ramped up again between rebels and coalition forces, the United Nations Human Right’s Commissioner reports that over 13,000 civilians have been injured or killed, that 21 million more are in “urgent need of humanitarian assistance”. This assistance is being prevented by a Saudi-led, coalition blockade which prevents vital medical supplies from reaching Yemenis.
According to the World Health Organization,
“The country [Yemen] is still facing the world’s largest cholera outbreak and 7 million people are on the brink of famine, including some two million severely malnourished children.”
And while the media has reported on this tragedy which isn’t getting any better any time soon , this doesn’t seem to give Americans cause to pause in the midst of the holiday fervor.
A Deficiency of Perspective
A quote, famously attributed to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin noted that,
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Is this the reason that Americans don’t seem to be moved by the plight of the starving Yemenis? Is their conflict too far removed from our immediate vision for us to find the ability to empathize? Is Donald Trump’s latest tweet really that newsworthy?
The resolution to the Yemen crisis goes beyond awareness and contributing money toward foreign aid efforts, though both should be considered as short term strategies to get vital aid to those suffering at the hands of the current blockade. It requires Americans to understand that elections have consequences beyond simply getting “our guy” into the White House. They have global implications.
Donald Trump elicited the enthusiasm of non-interventionists during his campaign as he criticized U.S. foreign policies of nation building and pointless conflict, then turned around and continued the legacy of his predecessors upon taking office. We continue to sell unprecedented amounts of weapons to our “ally” the Saudi’s, who are currently responsible for this crises. We still support war by proxy as the Saudis invade a country embroiled in civil war. We fuel Saudi jets as they indiscriminately bomb Yemeni targets, which hit targets such as family homes, grocery stores, hospitals and schools. We have given our unofficial seal of approval for Saudi action until recent public pressure this month pushed the State Department to urge Saudis to relent.
The fact is that this conflict has been ongoing for at least two years and our leaders would’ve been content to continue business as usual, were it not for major aid organizations and media shining a light on the war crimes happening in the region.
This is a major problem.
Many libertarians, like myself, are scoffed at when we propose a non-interventionist foreign policy, and drastically limiting our government’s size and jurisdiction over the lives of individuals. We’re dismissed as those who live in “liber-topia” and not the real world, but the truth of the matter is this; your government doesn’t care about your life, or the lives of countless civilians around the globe. They’re lost in the game of politics and money which have real world consequences.
Donald Trump was no political savior, just as Obama wasn’t. The problem isn’t party. The problem is power. The problem is a complicit populace who visit election booths and dutifully play our part as pawns in this game, leaving the corrupt political elite to play their war games overseas, at the expense of countless human lives. The Yemen conflict isn’t the first war game that politicians have played that has resulted in catastrophic human rights abuses.
Remember in 1996 when then U.N. Ambassador Madeline Albright was questioned about the U.N. sanctions leveled against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq?
“During his presidency, Bill Clinton presided over the most devastating regime of economic sanctions in history, that the U.N. estimated took the lives of as many as a million Iraqis, the vast majority of them children. In May of 1996, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Madeleine Albright, who at the time was Clinton’s U.N. ambassador. Correspondent Leslie Stahl said to Albright, “We have heard that a half-million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And — and, you know, is the price worth it?”
Madeleine Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” (Source: Democracy Now!)
The political class doesn’t care about human life, no matter how much they try to pretend like they do with their multi-million dollar campaigns, flashy graphics, and efforts to appear “relatable”.
The holidays should rightly be a time to reflect upon our blessings. We in America, and the West generally, have been greatly blessed in ways beyond measure, but the holiday season should also inspire within us the ability to look beyond what we have and to become aware of those without.
Just yesterday I saw my workplace gathering donations for a “Toys for Tots” drive. Given that this topic was fresh on my mind I couldn’t help but note the disparity of needs. Children in need in America are given toys during the holiday season so they don’t feel as if they’re forgotten, meanwhile children overseas are denied basic aid by our government and its allies. Those children starve. Those children probably see a toy as an unnecessary luxury as they fight the cholera which infects their bodies, cholera which could’ve been prevented with basic medical care.
There are no silver-bullet solutions in the reality that we live in. Tragedy has plagued humanity from its earliest days through the present. This fact, however, is by no means an excuse to perpetuate the problems of the world with collective indifference.
In these human rights abuses, the United States can claim no moral high ground. We are complicit. This is the government that we have given our approval to, as were the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations.
We must ask ourselves what sort of country we want to be in the global sphere, and we must take some time to actually contemplate our answers rather than giving generic, Pollyanna type responses which are heavy on meaningless buzzwords. The answer to these humanitarian issues may be aid in the short-term, but the long-term solutions are political and require an engaged citizenry who can sift through the candidates’ political bullshit and make decisions with foresight, understanding the consequences of particular policies that may be enacted.
It’s time to look past teams, and voting out of fear and to begin being proactive in our approach to our government. Our government has long acted in abuse of our civil liberties, and the freedoms of those abroad. When someone has broken your trust, that trust must be re-earned. Our institutions of government should be held to that same standard and stripped of their immense power and privilege to levels which make true accountability possible. This begins with us.
We the People.
This holiday season I am both grateful and grieved about the state of the world. I recognize simultaneously that I am blessed beyond what I deserve, but that I am complicit in the suffering of others at the hands of my government.
As we partake in our usual traditions we would do well to remember those in Yemen and elsewhere and resolve ourselves to change this reality one step at a time. This begins with fixing the mess we’ve made here which has led to tragedies abroad.