What’s a little cholera — excuse me, the worst outbreak of this preventable disease in modern history — compared to the needs of a smoothly functioning economy?
A week before he was kicked out of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet for allegedly having watched pornography on his government computer, former First Secretary of State Damian Green was quoted in the Guardian as saying that British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia were necessary because: “Our defense industry is an extremely important creator of jobs and prosperity.”
That statement is not the scandal — just business as usual. And of course Great Britain only supplies a quarter of the weaponry Saudi Arabia imports to wage its devastating war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The United States supplies more than half, with 17 other countries also cashing in on this market.
This amounts to a huge portion of the world at war, with a lot of winners and only a few, easily ignored losers. The losers include most of the population of Yemen, which has become an abyss of hopelessness, with famine and infectious disease intensifying the hell they are being forced to endure, as international players struggle for regional domination.
This sort of insanity has been going on since the dawn of civilization. But the voices crying out against war remain as marginalized and without political clout as ever. War is too useful politically and economically to be susceptible to a moral challenge.
“Our understanding of war … is about as confused and unformed as theories of disease were roughly 200 years ago,” Barbara Ehrenreich notes in her book “Blood Rites.”
This is an interesting observation, considering that, “The cholera epidemic in Yemen has become the largest and fastest-spreading outbreak of the disease in modern history,” with more than a million suspected cases reported, and some 2,200 deaths. “About 4,000 suspected cases are being reported daily, more than half of which are among children under 18,” according to Kate Lyons of the Guardian. “Children under 5 account for a quarter of all cases.”
Lyons quotes Tamer Kirolos, director of the Save the Children NGO in Yemen: “There’s no doubt this is a man-made crisis,” she said. “Cholera only rears its head when there’s a complete and total breakdown in sanitation. All parties to the conflict must take responsibility for the health emergency we find ourselves in.”
I repeat: This is a man-made crisis.
The results of this strategic game of power include the collapse of Yemen’s sanitation and public health systems. And fewer and fewer Yemenis have access to … clean water, for God’s sake.
And it’s all part of the strategic game of power. In order to rout the Shiite rebels backed by Iran, the Saudi coalition “has aimed to destroy food production and distribution” with its bombing campaign, according to London School of Economics researcher Martha Mundy. When I read this, I couldn’t help but think about Operation Ranch Hand, the U.S. strategy during the Vietnam War to destroy crops and forest cover by inundating the country with some 20 million gallons of herbicides, including the notorious Agent Orange.
What military or political end could possibly warrant such action? The reality of war transcends all description, all outrage.
And the global antiwar movement has, as far as I can tell, less traction than it did half a century ago. U.S. politics is unraveling, not realigning itself to create a sane, secure future. Donald Trump is the president.
Following his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has moved its iconic Doomsday Clock forward to two minutes to midnight, released a statement:
“Major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race, one that will be very expensive and will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions. Across the globe, nuclear weapons are poised to become more rather than less usable because of nations’ investments in their nuclear arsenals. President Trump was clear in his State of the Union Address last night when he said ‘we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal.’ …
“Leaked copies of the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review suggest that the U.S. is about to embark on a less safe, less responsible and more expensive path. The Bulletin has highlighted concern about the direction that countries like the United States, China and Russia are moving, and momentum toward this new reality is increasing.”
This is a man-made crisis. Or is it something less than that — a crisis of the worst of human instincts? In Yemen, cholera and famine have been unleashed by men in pursuit of victory for their cause. The faces of suffering and dying children — the consequences of this pursuit — provoke shock. This is so clearly wrong, but geopolitically, does anything change?
Violence is still sold as a necessity of security. “We must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal.” And it’s still being bought, at least by those who think the violence is aimed at someone else.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.