Dahyan, a town in the far northwest of Yemen, is a farming settlement about two hours’ drive from the Saudi border. On its dusty, unpaved main street, a large crater is still visible near a fruit-and-vegetable stand, marked out by flimsy wooden stakes and red traffic tape. It was here that a laser-guided bomb dropped by a Saudi jet struck a school bus taking students on a field trip on the morning of Aug. 9, killing 44 children and 10 adults. Even for a population that had grown accustomed to tragedy after more than three years of war, the bus bombing was shocking. Shrapnel and tiny limbs were scattered for hundreds of yards around. The bomb that hit the bus, several local people told me, bore markings showing it was made in the United States. The site has now become something of a shrine. On a brick wall a few yards from the crater, large painted letters in both English and Arabic proclaim, “America Kills Yemeni Children.”
Not far away was a fresh graveyard where the victims were buried. At each grave, a color portrait of a victim stood over a coffin-shaped mound of dry, rocky earth. Beyond a low stone wall was the carcass of the bus, a mass of twisted and burned metal. A boy was standing silently by a grave as I arrived, staring down at the headstone. “We were all in school together,” he told me. He was 14. He might easily have been on that bus, he said, but he’d already gone on the school trip. He was on the way to the market to help his father when the bomb struck. His father wasn’t hurt, but he soon found out that most of his friends and teachers were dead. He now goes to the graveyard almost every day to visit them, he told me quietly.
For the Houthi movement, a powerful and enigmatic militia that rules most of Yemen’s people, the bus bombing was something of a turning point. Unlike most of the civilian bombings that have taken place over the years, this one made headlines around the world, prompting angry reactions from political figures, human rights groups and even the actor Jim Carrey. After I saw the site, an official took me to a crowded auditorium nearby, where ushers handed us pamphlets showing gruesome pictures of dead and bleeding children. A few locals gave angry speeches about the evils of what Yemenis call “the aggression.” There was no mention of the ballistic missiles the Houthis have lobbed at Riyadh, or of their own war crimes. A small boy who had survived the airstrike was brought onstage, where he recited a prepared text in a high, strident voice. As I listened to him, I couldn’t help thinking about another tragedy of this war: Many of those fighting it are themselves children. The boy on that stage might soon be one of them.