Disclaimer: This blog post solely reflects the opinion of the authors and should not be taken to represent the general views of IPPR’s management team or those of fellow authors.
The term ‘Unworthy Victim’ is expertly described by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in their book, ‘Manufacturing Consent’ to denote victims whose narratives, irrespective of the injustices they’ve suffered or the severity of their plight, do not coincide with the pertinent political objectives of the incumbent elite (Chomsky and Herman, 1988). These narratives are therefore wholly omitted from the media or are, like their owners, mistreated and misused until they act the part.
Today’s (and last decade’s) ‘unworthy victims’ are the 12 million Yemeni children on the brink of starvation and the 12 million more in need of humanitarian assistance (“Crisis”, 2020). But this is far from breaking news – 10 years ago, half of Yemen’s children were already stunted from hunger and almost half of the country was unemployed (Novak, 2010).
What took us so long?
Considering US support to the Saudi-coalition in Yemen, it is exclusively lamentable – and not at all surprising – that the extent of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis has been downplayed, and distorted, for years; to reveal the Saudi atrocities that American arms and intelligence have facilitated would be to blur the lines between Lady Liberty and those she wages its ‘war on terror’ on. To even insinuate this, through facts and crystal-clear evidence, would be disastrously un-American.
But what has arguably really allowed the US to sidestep warranted criticism for its actions is the media coverage that it spoons into the mouth of civil society. For instance, media portrayal of the conflict in Yemen often revolves around it being a ‘tragedy’—not the consequential and very much predictable effect of US arms in the hands of the Saudi coalition. Now, the Yemen conflict is in no way devoid of the casualties and horrors to merit the term. Nonetheless, to simply declare it a ‘tragedy’ is to avoid ‘pointing fingers’ and to, connotatively, undermine its pressing reality. A ‘tragedy’, after all, is when someone scorns the Greek Gods and their ‘tragic’, predetermined downfall ensues.
The hundreds of thousands of deaths in Yemen are neither ‘destiny’ nor a work of fiction. They are a work of American complicity.
But it is such strategic media phrasing that arguably permits governments to avoid addressing a problem that they produced and are hesitant to fix – last year, Donald Trump vetoed congress’ attempt to withdraw US involvement in Yemen (Riechmann, 2019).
Take an article released by CBS, for instance, entitled ‘Over 7500 children killed or wounded in Yemen since 2013, UN report says’ (“Over 7500 killed”, 2019). For starters, the title neither attempts to humanise the deaths nor assign culpability. Its use of passive voice allows it to comfortably pretend there is no specific US-Saudi perpetrator behind those ‘killed or wounded’.
Moreover, when explaining the political origins of the conflict, it states that it ‘began with the 2014 takeover of the Yemen capital by Iranian-backed Houthi Shiite rebels’ and that ‘a Saudi-led coalition allied with Yemen’s internationally recognised government has been fighting the Houthis since’. Note how the Saudi’s coalition response is offered as a natural consequence of Houthi warfare and the term ‘internationally recognised government’ is included to legitimise the Saudi coalition.
Nowhere in the article is the crucial information that, also according to its United Nations source, the vast majority of civilian deaths are a result of Saudi indiscriminate airstrikes. Instead, this, as well as the fact that the US shamelessly provides equipment and financing to the Saudi coalition is conveniently left out.
It is for this reason that educating yourself about the nature of conflicts such as that of Yemen requires an active skepticism of who provides the ‘truth’. When we take government officials and sources prima facie, we are acting under the impression that they are trustworthy and not complicit in mass murders and state terrorism.
If, even after Donald Trump’s flippant description of the Yemen war as ‘an inexpensive way for Iran to cause trouble for the United States’, you believe the US government to prioritise releasing candid information to the media, then no amount of reading, listening, and watching will truly educate you about what actually goes on in countries like Yemen and who’s to blame (Riechmann, 2019).
Nathalia Gonzalez, BSc Politics and International Relations
CBS News. “Over 7,500 Children Killed or Wounded in Yemen since 2013, U.N. Report Says.” CBS News , CBS Interactive, 29 June 2019, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/yemen-children-killed-wounded-over-7500-united-nations-report-says-2019-06-29/.
“Yemen Crisis.” UNICEF , 18 June 2020, http://www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis.
Deb Riechmann, The Associated Press. “Trump Vetoes Measure to End US Involvement in Yemen War.” Military Times , Military Times, 16 Apr. 2019, http://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/04/17/trump-vetoes-measure-to-end-us-involvement-in-yemen-war/.
Chomsky , Noam, and Edward S Herman . Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media . 1988.
Novak , Jane. “COMPARATIVE COUNTERINSURGENCY IN YEMEN.” Middle East Review of International Affairs , vol. 14, no. 3, Sept. 2010.