The December 14 murder of 20 children and 6 women at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, has garnered vast media attention and caused countless people with no connection to the victims to grieve for them. This is not a new phenomenon: nearly all mass murders carried out by civilians generate the same type of coverage and response.
But what of the far more numerous incidents of government murder of innocents? Most of them hardly make the news at all; fewer still produce widespread outpourings of sympathy.
One does not need to look any further than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to observe the contrast. Barack Obama was quick to offer an expression of sympathy for the families of the Newtown victims. Yet that very day his administration asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit over the drone assassinations of Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki that Obama ordered in 2011. Both al-Awlakis were American citizens; Abdulrahman, the son of Anwar, was just 16 at the time of his death.
The lawsuit was filed by the father of Anwar al-Awlaki and the mother of Khan — parents who grieve over the loss of their children (and grandson) no less than the parents of Newtown. To Obama, however, these killings were justified on the basis of that nebulous concept “national security,” and the grieving relatives do not even deserve their day in court.
A couple of days later, a “suspected U.S. drone strike killed five suspected militants in Pakistan’s tribal region,” according to CNN. The Obama administration, which maintains a secret “kill list” from which the president can order assassinations, “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” the New York Times reported, so those “five suspected militants” might well have been persons who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, much like the children at Sandy Hook. Obama has yet to express any remorse for these deaths, and hardly any Americans are aware of them, let alone care.
Those five deaths are on top of the 2,500 people estimated to have been killed by the CIA and the U.S. military in the course of more than 300 drone strikes on Obama’s watch. Among the innocent people killed by U.S. drones during Obama’s presidency are at least 64 children — more than three times as many as were killed at Sandy Hook — according to a report from the law schools of Stanford University and New York University. Thus far, the president has not wiped away tears in the course of eloquent speeches on the lives snuffed out by his drones, and they have received very little press coverage. Americans who do know about them will, as often as not, shrug them off as “collateral damage.”
And while Obama praised “the first responders who raced to the scene” in Newtown, his administration’s policy abroad is to strike the same area multiple times with drone-fired missiles, with the second and later strikes invariably killing first responders attempting to help those injured in the first attack. “The secondary strikes,” noted the Stanford-New York report, “have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.”
Such policies, of course, did not originate with Obama. George W. Bush launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have together taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. During his presidency U.S. drones attacked a religious school in Pakistan, killing as many as 80 civilians, including 69 children ranging in age from 7 to 17. It being a CIA operation, it was kept under wraps as long as possible, and even now few Americans are aware of this unconscionable action that was performed in their name. Bush certainly did not apologize for it or express solidarity with the grieving relatives of his victims.
The George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations deliberately sabotaged Iraq’s sanitation systems and prevented their repair through sanctions. That, too, was not widely reported, and neither president apologized for it. Quite the opposite: Clinton’s secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, told a reporter that “the price” — half a million dead Iraqi children — was “worth it” to oust Saddam Hussein from power, an objective the bombings and sanctions manifestly failed to achieve.
Under Clinton, too, federal agencies laid siege to the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, and in the name of saving children from abuse killed 17 kids and another 59 adults inside the compound.
No government employees were ever brought to account for that incident, though some of the surviving Davidians were tried and convicted for daring to resist the feds’ assault on their home.
Going back even further, one could point to Harry Truman’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the Allies’ firebombing of German and Japanese cities, which also targeted first responders, under both Truman and his predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt. Even today those actions are justified by many Americans on the basis that “all’s fair in love and war”; and besides, they “saved American lives” — the only ones, apparently, that count.
The U.S. government, of course, is not alone in murdering innocent people. One thinks immediately of the great evils of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists, who killed perhaps 11 million people, or the communist regimes of the Soviet Union, China, and elsewhere, responsible for the deaths of nearly 100 million. All told, governments killed more than 262 million people in the 20th century outside of wars, according to University of Hawaii political science professor R.J. Rummel. Add to that the war dead, also the responsibility of governments, and the figure becomes astronomical. The vast majority of instances of death by government are unknown to all except researchers such as Rummel. Those that are more widely known often have their apologists.
No sane person sticks up for the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook massacre. Likewise, it’s about time people stopped sticking up for governments that perpetrate far worse killings — and started prosecuting the people who order them and carry them out.