In 1565, Pieter Bruegel the Elder created The Massacre of the Innocents, a provocative masterpiece of religious art. The painting reworks a biblical narrative about King Herod’s order to slaughter all newborn boys in Bethlehem for fear that a messiah had been born there. Bruegel’s painting situates the atrocity in a contemporary setting, a sixteenth-century Flemish village under attack by heavily armed soldiers.
Depicting multiple episodes of gruesome brutality, Bruegel conveys the terror and grief inflicted on trapped villagers who cannot protect their children. Uncomfortable with the images of child slaughter, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, after acquiring the painting, ordered another reworking. The slaughtered babies were painted over with images such as bundles of food or small animals, making the scene appear to be one of plunder rather than massacre.
Were Bruegel’s anti-war theme updated to convey images of child slaughter today, a remote Yemeni village could be the focus. Soldiers performing the slaughter wouldn’t arrive on horseback. Today, they often are Saudi pilots trained to fly U.S.-made warplanes over civilian locales and then launch laser-guided missiles (sold by Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin), to disembowel, decapitate, maim, or kill anyone in the path of the blast and exploding shards.
For more than five years, Yemenis have faced famines while enduring a naval blockade and routine aerial bombardment. The United Nations estimates the war has already caused 233,000 deaths, including 131,000 deaths from such indirect causes as lack of food, health services, and infrastructure.
Systematic destruction of farms, fisheries, roads, sewage and sanitation plants, and health-care facilities has wrought further suffering. Yemen is resource-rich, but famine continues to stalk the country, the United Nations reports. Two-thirds of Yemenis are hungry and fully half do not know when they will eat next. Twenty-five percent of the population suffers from moderate to severe malnutrition. That includes more than two million children.
Equipped with U.S.-manufactured Littoral Combat Ships, the Saudis have been able to blockade air and sea ports that are vital to feeding the most populated part of Yemen—the northern area, where 80 percent of the population lives. This area is controlled by Ansar Allah (also known as the “Houthi”).