The situation in Yemen has been dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by the U.N.
The country has been entangled in political unrest and conflict for years; however, armed conflict escalated in 2015 when Houthi rebels, an Iranian-backed minority Shiite group, drove out President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and seized control of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital.
Later that year, a Saudi-led coalition—consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan, and Jordan—began launching airstrikes that have targeted Houthi military compounds, hospitals, schools, mosques, factories, markets, farms, bridges, and power and water treatment plants.
The war has taken a horrifying toll on Yemen: 3.6 million people have been displaced, 24.1 million are in dire need of humanitarian aid, and 2 in 3 Yemenis cannot afford food.
The country has also had over 1 million cholera cases since 2018 and now COVID-19 threatens to infect another 16 million people.
So why aren’t we hearing about Yemen? Perhaps because the US is partly responsible for the crisis.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest importer of weapons and the US is its biggest supplier. For example, the Obama administration sold approximately $94 million worth of arms to the Saudis between 2008 and 2015. The number of weapons sales did not decrease even as Saudi Arabia began their military campaign in Yemen. The US has also supported the Saudi-led coalition with other forms of military assistance, such as aerial refueling, intelligence, and targeting support. And in 2019, President Trump vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have terminated US involvement in the war in Yemen.
The US has also been conducting drone missions in Yemen as part of their counterterrorism campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The drone strikes have killed approximately 115 to 149 Yemeni civilians.
So once again, why aren’t we hearing about Yemen?
Because Yemen is a perfect example of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s victims theory.
The theory stipulates that, in the eyes of news organizations, there are worthy and unworthy victims. In the twenty-first century, worthy victims are generally Westerners who are killed or severely injured in terrorist attacks (e.g. victims of 9/11) while unworthy victims are non-Westerners who are killed by Western military operations (e.g. Yemeni civilians.)
Essentially, atrocities committed by the US are far less likely to be covered than those committed by other, non-Western nations.
And while major Western news outlets may cover deadly airstrikes in Yemen, they largely avoid discussing US and Saudi military relations. An Associated Press piece, for example, covered a Saudi coalition airstrike that killed 13 Yemeni civilians earlier this month, but failed to mention that the US government provides weapons and intelligence to the coalition.
With that in mind, reporting on Yemen requires American journalists to confront the dark reality that the US is complicit in war crimes against the Yemenis. It requires them to dig deep into America’s long, unsavory and bloody history in the Middle East and examine our relationship with the Saudi Arabian government, which has a nauseating record of human rights violations.
It is much easier to ignore the truth than it is to confront it.
But the crisis in Yemen grows increasingly grim. They need humanitarian assistance and for US involvement to end now.
As we’ve seen with the recent Black Lives Matter protests, public pressure is extremely effective at persuading politicians to support a cause. The Minneapolis city council, for instance, vowed to dismantle their police force following public outrage over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
Public pressure can only mount, however, if the public is aware of the injustice in the first place. It is crucial that the American public knows what is at stake in Yemen so that they can place pressure on the government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and terminate drone missions in the region.
Journalists hold the key to public knowledge. They dictate to the public what is important to know about and what is not.
Yemen desperately needs public awareness and aid right now. Otherwise, they might not survive.