The American military must take tips from Bart Simpson. As survivors gaze in bewilderment at the four bombarded Afghan villages and 40 people at a wedding killed by American missiles fired from American planes, the Pentagon thinks for a moment and says: “I didn’t do it.”
What else can have caused this then? Maybe it’s the local custom. In some cultures, wedding guests throw confetti, in others they throw rice, in this bit of Afghanistan they throw cluster bombs. Or maybe it was just the usual wedding scrap between different halves of the family, to do with a feud going back to the 1950s about who owns the deeds to a yak. Or maybe one uncle ate all the samosas, that’s usually what sets these things off.
Of course the Americans did it. Which is why they have to change their response several times, which again they do with the thought process of a little boy caught by a smashed window with a catapult. After denying it, they announced an investigation, then claimed they were fired on. In other words: “Er, I don’t know, maybe it was, hang on a minute, I’ll ask at school if anyone knows who did it.” In a couple of days Donald Rumsfeld will appear and say “Terry made me do it”.
At one point Lieutenant Colonel Roger King, the spokesman for the American forces, admitted that they’d dropped bombs “near” the village at which the wedding took place. So how did 40 people get killed in the village, I wonder. Perhaps they moved the village at the last minute.
Another suggestion was that the bombs were fired at “pre-planned targets which had proven in the past to house hostile operatives”. Who specifically have these hostile operatives been in the past? The wedding photographer? I suppose that it would be a good cover; he could say that he had to go and change the film to do the groom and the bride’s sister, then nip round the back and fire off a round of anti-aircraft missiles. Or the disco unit? Perhaps they turn “The Birdie Song” up to top volume so that no one could hear them send off a rocket launcher.
Over the course of the day they changed the story again to claim they were fired on by enemy anti-aircraft guns. So what else could they do in response but follow the classic military strategy of summoning a B-52 to kill 40 people at a wedding. I think it was Alexander the Great who first perfected this technique. “The minute the Egyptians attack,” he said, “we’ll take out their nearest wedding. Once you’ve got the cake and the table plan, the rest of the city will crumble.”
There has been a suggestion that the confusion was caused by the Afghan practice of firing rifles into the air at weddings. And I can see how, when you’re flying at 20,000 feet, a bloke on the ground with a 50-year-old rifle could make you jumpy. These things have a range of over 80 yards so with a ricochet-or-two they could have your eye out.
The amazing side to this episode is that the victims were in an area that is already under the control of the government put in place by America. So the Afghan Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, said: “This situation must come to an end” â€“ which seems reasonable enough. However, the Americans are treating his complaints with contempt, the way that a bullying bloke would speak to his wife, a sort of “all right, I’m entitled to bomb the odd village, aren’t I? Listen, you were nothing before you met me, nothing. Now stop giving me earache.”
The one consistent side to the United States response has been a refusal to apologise. Perhaps they’ve been advised they can still claim it was 50-50 when it comes to settling the insurance. So their investigations are under way. Maybe they’ll try a similar technique to the one they used when an American pilot dropped two bombs on a Yugoslav railway bridge, causing the deaths of dozens of passengers on a train that hurtled down the hole a few seconds later.
A film was shown proving the train was travelling so fast the pilot couldn’t have known it was there. Until a few months later when it was revealed Nato had deliberately doubled the speed of the film. So they might say the wedding happened so fast their pilots couldn’t see it and then show us speeded-up film of the bride and the groom sprinting up the aisle and hurtling to the reception.
They might as well, because the truth is that, apart from propaganda considerations, they don’t really care. On Tuesday Rumsfeld appeared at the press conference with his usual smirk, which he would do as he’s a US Defence Secretary who feels that he has a mandate to do whatever he likes. He might as well have pointed to a screen and said, “This is what happened,” then turned over to Richard and Judy and said: “See, there’s just a middle-aged couple talking about how to cure athlete’s foot.” Instead he said: “These incidents, when they occur, they take time to sort out.”