(July 18, 2018)
The world’s attention was riveted by the plight of the Wild Boars soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand, and the effort to bring them out.
The cave rescue even came close to moving the World Cup off the front page of the news, as hour-by-hour reports from the huge media team flooded in faster than themonsoon rains.
Like the World Cup, everyone was playing for a win. The time was short, the intensity had a deadline, and there was no prize for second place.
It was an event custom-made for media coverage, able to be captured in tweets by the moment that updated everyone on the plight of the boys and their coach, complete with pictures from inside the cave where they were trapped.
In a world beset by difficult problems, this one would not drag on for long. One way or another, it would soon be over. Accustomed to watching soccer players take dives on the World Cup pitch, these cave dives were for real— and dangerously so. The Thai diver who ran out of oxygen himself was instantly immortalized as a hero, and we will no doubt learn of other heroes after the fact.
It was all over before there could be competition from the final games of the World Cup. Hailed as a successful example of global co-operation, it was an international effort that transcended the differences that separate us.
And so on. You might detect a tinge of sarcasm here. While the rescue truly was heroic and amazing, the commentary tended to be overdone and rather self-serving. Most countries contributed media teams, not divers. While the “thoughts and prayers” were no doubt sincere, we will need to see whether that international partnership extends to paying the enormous cost of the rescue operation.
No doubt the media spotlight helped, but I was left reflecting on how many much-larger problems lack that special attention because they can’t be resolved so quickly. If there is no quick “win,” just a long and painful story, it gets pushed to the side — ignored, or soon forgotten, if new ways aren’t continually found to bring the issue back into the news.
So at the same time, the worldwas focused on soccer and cave diving, eight million people in Yemen moved closer to death from starvation, with far less fanfare.
We were concerned with 12 boys in a Thai cave, and several thousand children separated from their parents and kept in cages in the United States for being “illegal” migrants, but conservative estimates conclude that at least 50,000 children died from malnutrition and disease last year in Yemen alone.
With a military offensive underway by Saudi Arabia and allies against the Houthi militia, those horrible numbers will skyrocket if taking the port of Hodeidah remains the objective of their assault.
Local players might find a solution to the war in Yemen if they were not backed by outside agents (Saudi Arabia and Iran) that are essentially fighting the war by proxy. The recent escalation has apparently been endorsed by the American administration, making it complicit in this unfolding tragedy.
Whether his actions are deliberate or merely the result of impulsive early-morning tweets, U.S. President Donald Trump’s presidency so far has been marked by acrimony, both at home and abroad.
Allies are poised to become antagonists, while supposed antagonists seem to have become friends.
In Trump’s decisions, however, there also seems to be a consistent curve toward encouraging conflict. Under moderate leadership, Iran could be a force for stability in an area where— looking at Iraq, Syria and Libya — there has been nothing but devastation for more than 25 years.
From moving the American embassy to Jerusalem to cancelling the Iranian nuclear deal, to cutting off the oil exports on which Iran’s economic recovery from decades of sanctions depends, Trump seems to be taking every possible step, short of declaring war, to ensure instability will continue in the Middle East.
Those eight million people at risk of death in Yemen seem about to become anonymous casualties of the politics of governments — or presidents — that don’t care.
Clearly, looking at the overwhelming public response to boys trapped in caves or children kept in cages, however, it seems ordinary people do care, once they know what is really going on.
We all have a responsibility to make sure the Yemen story continues to be told until something changes for the better.