Amal Hussain: an emaciated 7-year-old girl, starved to death. Jamal Khashoggi: an exiled Saudi Arabian journalist and US resident, sawed to pieces. These two deaths, separated by a thousand miles, exposed the American public to the brutality of the Saudi regime and its war in Yemen. More than that, they expose the dark role played by our apathy.
It’s easy to ignore foreign atrocities. But to ignore the Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign in Yemen, when our taxpayer money helps fund it, is to be complicit. Years of unrestrained violence, destruction and disease have distressed millions of innocent Yemenis in what U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has declared the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
Since 2015, Saudi Arabia, bolstered by a coalition of Arab states has carried out an aggressive military campaign in Yemen’s civil war against allegedly Iran-associated Houthi rebels. Western powers support the coalition. Saudi airstrikes caused almost two-thirds of civilian deaths in 2015 alone. The U.S. has conducted its own drone strikes in Yemen, directed at an Al-Qaeda faction, at least a third of which have killed civilians.
Because of Saudi blockades, limits placed on journalists in the field and regular airstrikes, it’s difficult to accurately assess the scope of the damage. But estimates paint a horrific scene: At least 22 million are in dire need of assistance and protection, 15 million have no access to health care services, 14.5 million lack clean water, 14 million face imminent starvation and 3 million have fled their homes. Yemen has had the worst cholera outbreak in history. Every ten minutes, a child dies of preventable causes.
Until recently, the crisis faced a media and diplomatic blackout. In all of 2017, MSNBC ran only one segment on U.S. support for Saudi-coalition airstrikes. It was corporate neglect of humanity, the failure of a free press to inform citizens their government’s involvement in foreign conflict. But this past August, images of bloodied UNICEF backpacks and broken corpses finally made it onto CNN. A Lockheed Martin-made bomb blew up a school bus, killing 40 school children. Other Geneva Conventions-violating, Saudi-coalition strike targets were finally brought to the public eye, including weddings and funerals — most of which were hit with U.S.-manufactured arms.
Our government has especially turned a blind eye to the slaughter of innocent children with American weapons — as it has done for years. Since 2015, the U.S. has supplied the Saudi military with missiles, aircraft, tanks, arms, logistical guidance, intelligence, aerial refueling and training. Our country is the largest weapons exporter in the world and, unsurprisingly, Riyadh is the world’s largest importer of U.S. weapons. Most recently, President Trump has promised $110 billion in future weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Sadly, “war is still a racket.”
Even after Khashoggi’s murder, Trump blatantly expressed gratitude to the Saudi Crown Prince for lowering our oil prices, fighting Iran—an overstated appreciation—and buying U.S. weapons. The U.S. position on Yemen is something we’re all too familiar with: a military-industrial complex that allows contractors and foreign lobbyists to swing our policy and sponsor breaches of human rights.
Though it must approve all weapons sales, Congress has done little to stop arms from reaching Yemen. Currently, the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018 is the only comprehensive bill to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. Just last week, a bipartisan war powers resolution to end US military involvement in Yemen advanced with a 63 to 37 vote — it had been tabled back in March. But the necessary corresponding resolution failed in the House two weeks ago, as did an effort to stop arms sales to Saudi-allied Bahrain.
Given these congressional efforts, the lack of student activism against our country’s role in Yemen is disappointing. As students, we need to protest, pressure policymakers, raise awareness, fundraise and say enough is enough. Now that Congress is heeding Yemen’s cries, we must continue to push for ending U.S. military involvement in Yemen, faithfully promoting peace talks and increasing our government’s humanitarian aid. We must also call for an independent U.N. inquiry to hold Saudi Arabia, ourselves and all other parties accountable for the atrocities committed in Yemen over the past three years.
Americans would be happier today if our taxpayer money went toward public education and domestic infrastructure instead of arming coalitions that bomb school buses and weddings in the poorest country in the Middle East. Government spending should not be bloodstained; speaking out against our country’s role in foreign atrocities is a responsibility for every citizen.
Breaking our silence is the first step. We’re starting a campaign of students to advocate for congressional action and humanitarian efforts to support the people of Yemen. Let’s come together to develop a broader political consciousness and prevent our country from escalating bloodshed abroad. Email us if you’d like to join.
Mehdi Baqri is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Daud Shad is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org .