Return Home

How Much Does It Cost to Say "I'm Sorry"?

Back to Episode

In December 2013, a US drone strike hit a wedding party in remote part of Yemen's central province of al-Baydah, killing 12 civilians. Gregory Johnsen, writer-at-large for BuzzFeed News leads Radiolab down a rabbit hole of United States' military condolences. Producer Matt Kielty talks to lawyers, generals, and a grieving father to try to understand how we say "sorry" with cash. From French farmers in WWI to Iraqi children injured by unexploded bombs, we wonder - can money ever heal the heart?

Produced by:

Matt Kielty

Comments [15]

khoi hoang from virginia

I think the assassination of the Al -Qaeda operator also has something to do with the prejudice of society nowadays. The U.S army seems to rely so much on the compensation money for the foreign victims that they do not consider carefully before blowing up dozen of Yemeni or Libyan. Would they do the same thing if these people are American? Perhaps, the U.S army do that because the victims are just people from a chaotic country where death is the norm. In this situation, I think bombing a convoy is not necessary for a solution. Since the U.S army know that the person in the convoy is the terrorist, they can snipe him from a far distance or kill him by anyway that does not affect to other people. After the killing, they thought that money can resolve everything but human life is more than just money.

Feb. 03 2017 01:40 PM
J Newton from Virginia

Money is a strange beast, dangerous yet integral to the survival of today's global market. I was particularly intrigued by the mention of "money as a weapon" in this episode—it makes perfect sense that we would see a rise in the frequency of its employment given the increasing reliance on money as a whole. Why not use it in a literal battlefield, when we see its effects every day in the political, social, and of course economic battlefields?

The concept runs on the premise that people's lives, ties, experiences, et cetera can be priced or quantified. Maybe it's an ethical rather than moral debate—should we even attempt to quantify such things? Are there aspects of life too natural to set value to? If that is the case, all the more cause for a health-care reform in the US, where the lives of those people with the $84,000 are more expensive, thus, more valuable, than of those without. The same applies to foreigners—does the US consider rural Yemeni comparable to Americans in terms of price?

How long until someone starts looking for tradeoffs: "How many poor people will one wealthy businessman convert into?" "How many Yemeni can I buy with one American?" At the end of the day, while lives are now expressed in cash, they are devalued in terms of humanity.

Feb. 03 2017 01:41 AM
dan from NYC

The most obvious glaring difference between the 9/11 victims and the wedding massacre victims is that we didn't cause the deaths on 9/11 whereas we did cause the wedding victims deaths.. Your trying to compare apples and oranges.

Dec. 24 2016 12:51 PM
TommyP from Brooklyn, NY

Jeeps in WWI? ROFL That's what happens when you use Buzzfeed "journalists" - makes me wonder what else he got wrong in this story. Details matter. Your listeners are smarter than you think. Major Fail, Radiolab. Very disappointing,

Dec. 24 2016 12:37 PM
Filip from Sydney

Excellent episode, but I felt like a crucial element was missing from comment that they ALMOST got to - the fact that US foreign policy employs compensation payments as a safety net against accidental death leads to the continuation of these sorts of operations without scrutiny, as if any negative consequence has been taken care of. It leads to future killings, where another wedding party can be murdered without second thought because of an operational directive.

May. 12 2015 01:32 AM

Ditto on the use of term jeep in referring to WWI vehicles. Sloppy research detracts from your credibility in general. Otherwise enjoyable, be careful!

Feb. 23 2015 01:33 AM
Bill Fetcher from Steamboat Springs, CO

The term "jeep" wasn't in use during WWI. It's thought to have come from a character in Popeye cartoons, or a contraction of G.P. (general purpose), both dating from the 1930s and early '40s. However lots of Model T Fords were sent overseas during WWI.

Feb. 22 2015 08:46 PM

Tax dollars hard at work.

Feb. 21 2015 04:48 PM
Bert Reynolds from san jose

I was THIS close to not listening to this because I saw the word "buzzfeed" in the description. But I will...because it's free.

But really....Radiolab/NPR affiliating itself with anything BuzzFeed? Makes as much sense as Fox News sponsoring Downton Abbey.

Feb. 16 2015 11:25 PM

At around 20:00, we hear that the drone was operated by "a man he'll never meet". I know a drone pilot. She is female.

Feb. 14 2015 06:48 PM
Temple from London

Really glad the drone strike issue got some airplay. Maybe it's obvious to everyone, or maybe i'm the only one, but as long as american foreign policy values foreign lives as so beneath their concept of justice and democracy that they're ok with killing a bunch to 'maybe' neutralise an extremist, we'll continue to see the families of victims be radicalized and pushed towards extremist views. This is the very birthplace of extremism, right here. I know if i had to see my mother, father or sister grow up under the fear of invisible and deadly drones, year after year, I'd get pretty angry too. How bout everyone stops killing people hey?

Jan. 15 2015 11:44 AM
Diane Allen from Frederick, MD

While this was a very thought-provoking podcast, it occurs to me that an essential point was missed entirely regarding the "Wedding Day Drone Strike" in Yemen. This drone strike resulted in premeditated and calculated 'accidental' deaths (not 'true' accidental deaths). Certainly the number of innocent victims were not known beforehand, but certainly if a wedding party (or any large group of people) are bombed in an attempt to kill one 'bad-guy' (who may or not be present in the group) then the question of reparations for 'accidental' civilian deaths is not the correct question. Instead the question becomes "How much reparation money can the US afford to pay if it is estimated that between 'X' number and 'Y' number of civilians are killed during a drone strike?" The question that I would like an answer to is "How high a number do we need to make the reparation amount for cases like this so that the US will discontinue the drone program that causes drone strikes that kill innocent people?"

Jan. 11 2015 01:29 PM
Lee Ann from Chapel Hill, NC

Interesting that I listened to this podcast the day after I finished the novel The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji. The main character, Jo, travels to Pakistan and Iraq to apologize on behalf of her soldier brother for the death he caused to a local family and the reparations provided to the surviving victims. Excellent read, compelling podcast.

Jan. 07 2015 09:05 AM

It occurs to me that the compensation offered to victims of the military is based on a life insurance perspective. Instead, if you look at it from the perspective of wergeld - a justice perspective, it might make more sense: "Why is $10,000 better than $2500?" - my answer is that it hurts *you* more to pay me that money. It's more just that way. It's a "more civilized" way of handling the "eye-for-an-eye" thought process. Blood-money doesn't actually kill two people. It's still justice, and another person doesn't have to die to make up for the other person's death.

Jan. 07 2015 08:50 AM
Teather from missoula mt

What a wonderful, thought provoking episode once again! Thank you!
As fan and regular listener I just wanted to keep the spirit of accuracy thriving and mention that several times Jeep was specifically named as the vehicle that began our military's foray into amends. To my understanding, Jeep as we know it was introduced at the start of WWII. In WWI ANY vehicle could be referred to as a Jeep by military mechanics.

Jan. 02 2015 09:59 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.