By Hannah Brandt
As the school year ends, young people have been on my mind. I used to teach high school social studies and have continued to work with teens over the years. Whenever I see children suffering or young lives lost anywhere in the world, I always notice how like my students they are. Unfortunately, we have witnessed so much tragedy involving youth this month.
The most reported upon has been the bombing in Manchester, England, at an Ariana Grande concert that left 22 people dead and more than 100 injured. Most of the attendees were adolescent girls; the youngest victim of the blast was eight years old. Although there has been an outpouring of love and sympathy, there have also been cruel taunts, always by men, disparaging their music choices and everything else about teenage girls. A few joked that death was better than living through a Grande concert.
For most of us, our music styles change as we age and we often look back on our younger selves wondering what we were thinking. In 1990, when I was 12, my favorite singer was a 19-year-old Mariah Carey. The daughter of an opera singer, she was known for her wide vocal range and ability to belt out emotional ballads. By the middle of high school, I was ashamed to admit I had ever listened to her. When I think about it now, I completely understand why I and many girls just hitting puberty did.
Carey and other young female singers with big voices and theatrical stage presences tap into a need to feel powerful when you usually feel small and insecure. Like many, I spent hours in front of the mirror trying to imitate Carey’s confidence strutting around in bodysuits and skin-tight jeans in her music videos. Adolescence is a time when girls begin to face the sexism of society, looks are increasingly scrutinized, humanity too often demeaned. Although she seemed to be so masterfully in control, I would learn Carey was dogged by the same issues.
Big voices command attention and take up space, two things that girls and women are often discouraged from doing. Society frowns on us being loud, demanding to be heard. Many of the girls at that Ariana Grande concert were able to express themselves loudly in public for the first time. Though I put Mariah Carey aside, as I got older I continued to look for strong, powerful female singers to help me express myself loudly when I have been ignored, talked over, told to be quiet.
The voices that have been most silenced are those in war zones. The mainstream media has largely failed to report that recent U.S. military raids in Yemen have killed 31 civilians, including 12 children. According to the Intercept, villagers attest that a 15-year-old boy was shot as he was running away from Navy Seals. Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman penned an article that took the words out of my mouth. We must grieve the lives of these children as much as we do those innocent girls in Manchester.
An epidemic of cholera has broken out in Yemen, which was already extremely impoverished before the war began three years ago. While some of the destruction has been by the Iranian-backed Houthis, most of the suffering has been inflicted by Saudi Arabia with American support. Of course, our government has not stopped its perpetual war in the Middle East. President Trump just committed billions of dollars in military aid to Saudi Arabia.
Memorial Day has just passed. While I feel for the families who have lost loved ones in combat, the patriotic demands on Americans to unconditionally support our military make me sicker every year. Since the War on Terror began 16 years ago, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed by U.S. forces. David Niose pointed out in an article in Salon that the U.S. military propaganda machine makes our nation particularly vulnerable to fascism. When a figure such as Trump takes power in a nation already accepting of unbridled militarism, the rest of the dominos fall all too easily.
Earlier this month, on its Independent Lens series, PBS showed the documentary National Bird about the U.S. weaponized drone program. In it, former drone operators described how they were trained to look for women and children in places like Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan. They would first be told this training was to target terrorists and avoid killing the innocent, yet once behind the guns they would be commanded to shoot indiscriminately.
Even when drone operators protested that they could see the targets were women and children, they were screamed at by their superiors to hit them. These military personnel are often still teenagers themselves. The few brave people who have spoken out against these programs have faced accusations of treason. This is where military propaganda takes us. Children killing children in the name of patriotism.
In closing, I need to make a correction. Last month, we inaccurately captioned a photo from our Growing Community Alliance fund-raiser. The photo of Eva Scow was with Mike Taylor, not Adam Scow. I am sorry for the error. Thank you again for the wonderful music!