When people ask me what my new job is like, I tell them that I wake up very early and count the dead. When I say “very early,” I mean a few minutes after 4 am, as the sky is just softening to the color of faded purple corduroy. By “the dead,” I mostly mean people across the world that my government has killed or helped another nation’s government kill while I was sleeping.
Once I was a freelance reporter, spending weeks or months covering a single story. Today I’m a news producer at Democracy Now! and, from the moment I arrive at the office, I’m scouring the wire services for the latest casualties from Washington’s war zones. It’s a disconcerting job for someone used to reporting stories on the ground. As I cull through the headlines—“Suspected US drone strike kills 4 militants in Pakistan,” “US troops dispatched to Kunduz to help Afghan forces”—I’ve never felt so close to this country’s various combat zones. And yet I’m thousands of miles away.
Usually, I try to avoid talking about our wars once I leave the office. After all, what do I know? I wasn’t there when the American gunship began firing on that hospital Doctors Without Borders ran in Kunduz, and I didn’t get there afterwards either. Nor was I in Yemen’s Saada province a few weeks later when a Doctors Without Borders health clinic was bombed.
If you live here and don’t listen to Democracy Now!, odds are you didn’t even know that second strike happened. How is it possible, I think to myself, that bombing medical facilities isn’t front-page news? On that gutted clinic in Yemen, however, I can’t tell you much more. I know that the strike was carried out by US-backed, Saudi-led forces, and that it happened only a few days after the Obama administration approved an $11.25 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. But I don’t know what the air felt like that evening just before the missile hit the maternity ward.
Still, when your job is to chronicle these wars each morning, how can you not say something? How can you not start writing when our wars become all you think about, something you begin to dream about? How can you not respond when you realize, as I did recently, that the longest of them, the (second) US war in Afghanistan, has stretched on for nearly half my life?
All this is my way of telling you that I need to talk to you about Kunduz.