If we are going to leave a better future for our kids and grand kids we need to rise up as a global community and take action.
For the past 2 years plus, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, has killed over 100,000 of his people as part of an effort to quash a rebellion against his regime, including 1429 people, 426 of them children, killed by the illegal use of chemical weapons.1 Assad also routinely uses torture and the denial of medical care and bombs hospitals as part of his war strategy.2
Unfortunately the apple did not fall far from the tree. In 1982 in the Hama Massacre, Hafez al-Assad, his father, had Syrian Army troops kill an estimated 10,000 to 40,000 Syrian people as part of a ruthless effort to quash an Islamic uprising.
In response to the chemical attacks, President Obama went to congress and requested authorization for a “surgical strike” to degrade Assad’s chemical delivery capabilities, as well as, send a strong message to Syria and Iran that the US and the world will not allow the production, use and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, be they chemical or nuclear. Let’s also not forget that there are 6 million Syrians displaced by this war, 2 million seeking refuge in neighboring countries and 4 million displaced within Syria and more joining that group every day.3
The ensuing debate in the US, among the legislative and the administration, as well as by the American people and world community, is of great importance and warrants further study and reporting.
This is ultimately a moral issue and an issue of determining the kind of world we want to live in. As insane as it sounds (and it is) war, the most uncivilized of human group activities, must have some rules if we are to survive. These rules are a stepping-stone to hold us over and allow those of us who survive to make it to the day when peaceful solutions to conflicts, personal, regional, national and international, will be the norm and new normal.
While the world community works to achieve a more peaceful world, we must address atrocities and make sure “might does not equate to right”. There are numerous examples form past and present where intervention by the strong would have deterred, minimized and in some cases avoided the tragedies and crimes against humanity that occurred altogether. In no particular order, but a few examples:
1. WWII and the Holocaust (1939-1945) — The United States Congress declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, in response to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and on Germany on December 11, 1941 in response to Germany’s declaration of war on the United States. Germany established concentration camps to deal with those labeled as “political opponents and social deviants” as early as 1933. Those camps were increased in number and became death camps, specifically designed to exterminate, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and other political and social “undesirables”.4
In the Auschwitz Concentration Camp alone, 2,000 human beings were killed every 30 seconds during the camp’s operation, yet, although knowledge of the mass killing at the camp were known as early as 1940-1941, the plan to bomb the camp and rails leading to it was not formulated till 1944 and then never executed.5
Although an exact number will never be determined, the most accurate number of people killed in the camps is 17 Million, out of which 7 million were Jews (total number killed in WWII is estimated at 60 Million).6
Earlier US involvement, as well as, the bombing of the camps and rails would have arguably slowed the killing and saved many lives.
2. Rwanda Genocide (1990-1994) — In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi refuge rebel group, invaded Rwanda from the north and started the civil war with the Hutu-led government. International pressure resulted in a temporary cease fire in 1993, however, the assassination of the Hutu-led government President Juvenal Habyarimana in April 1944, resulted in a violent reaction in which Hutu groups conducted mass killings of Tutsi as well as pro-peace Hutus. This genocide, of men, women and children mostly by machete, involving rapes and tortures, is estimated to have cost 500,000 to a 1,000,000 people their lives (that is 7 out of every 10 Tutsi killed)
The world community, including the US, chose to ignore the Genocide and not intervene. A UN deployment of more than 5,000 troops only managed to get there after the Genocide was over due to “delay and denial of recommendations”.7
There is no doubt that swift international diplomatic and military response would of saved hundreds of thousands of lives. And these are but two examples of many (a few more to mention would be Former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Darfur).
One could argue that killing and genocide are part of the human condition. One could argue that we, humans, are predisposed to conflict and killing and always will (in our DNA, so to speak). If that is the case, my inclination is to get in the car and follow Thelma and Louise right off the cliff. Obviously, that is not a practical solution. We, as people, have a moral obligation and a fiduciary duty to our children and their children to try and fix this world and leave a better one for them. Evolution has gotten us very far towards a civilized existence and great technological advancements are making our lives easier, longer and better. That same ingenuity has also resulted in our current and growing ability to kill many and devastate large regions of the planet for generations to come, with one bomb, missile or deadly virus.
It is important to understand, that the planet will survive our self-destructive measures. We, however, will not. It is time for us to realize that we are temporary residents of a very small and fragile planet where all life and existence are interconnected. Everything we do or not do in one place or with one group, impacts all other groups and the planet as a whole. If not for morality and humanity than let’s get involved and stop these atrocities and genocides for our own survival. Let’s stop eating our young or assuming that just because it is their young being eaten, our young are safe and so are we.
The current joint Russian/US solution (not likely to have come about without the US threat of a military strike), of having Syria sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and agree to an internationally supervised plan to dispose of them, is a good first step. However, it is a logistical nightmare to execute, especially in the middle of an ongoing civil war, and it does nothing to resolve the much larger issue of the mass killing of Syrians by Assad using conventional weapons.
Military strikes do send a message of strength and resolve as well as force, which might still be required here. It is especially important to make sure Iran and North Korea, to name but two, get the message that we, the international community of nations, will no longer put up with the development and use of any weapons of mass destruction as well as not sit idly by while our fellow humans are massacred. This is the essential first step to a better world, which is something all of us want and need, even if some of us are not quite there yet, and will take a while to get there, if ever.
Photo credit: Flickr/FreedomHouse