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Column: Serious about Syria


by Jared Perlo

To most Americans, the Middle East has become synonymous with war and chaos. Every day seems to bring new turmoil to the region, from the common coups and border disputes to the exceptional self-immolation that set off the Arab Spring. Currently, Syria’s raging civil war serves as the conflit du jour—one order of ruthless dictator who mercilessly attacks his own people coming right up. Despite the fact that this debacle has been ongoing largely overlooked for the past two years, the recent discovery that chemical weapons were allegedly used by Bashar al-Assad’s regime has caused an uproar across the globe.

To condense two years of conflict into a few sentences concerning the recent allegations, the U.S. government alleged, and the UN recently confirmed, that over 400 children—from infants to teenagers the same ages as students at this very school—were killed in a gas attack carried out by Assad’s government. Now maybe to the average American, the apparent murders going on halfway across the world are not even worth a raised eyebrow. Yet as war-weary and war-wary as we are, the American public must snap out of its idyllic fairytale world and realize that a government is slaughtering its own people without remorse.

To respond to the attack and rally the American people, President Obama laid out the fundamental arguments for a limited attack on Syria in a prime-time television speech on Tuesday. Obama argued that if America does not fire a warning shot, this “crime against humanity, and a “violation of the laws of war” will invariably signal permissiveness and, in turn, allow for future attacks to occur. As it so happens, between the airing of his speech and the writing of this column, Syria has expressed formal interest in joining a ban on chemical weapons to move forward.

This revelation came in addition to the agreement to a basic treaty between Russia and the United States to secure the existing chemical weapons. An initial lack of American and international public support for a targeted military strike might have been a stroke of luck, as Obama was forced to backtrack and seek the approval of Congress before launching a strike, while simultaneously pursuing diplomatic options at the same time that have since blossomed into practical hopes.

Granted, just because I want the American public to wake up and smell the roses does not mean that I’m expressly advocating a military strike. Of course we must exhaust every single diplomatic option before military action, while also realizing that innocent kids are literally being slaughtered like lab rats.

Amongst other members of the Newton North community who weighed in on the matter, and English teacher Elizabeth Craig-Olins said, “If there is a diplomatic way to deal with it, wow, that would be amazing.” Yet—worst case scenario—if the prospective peace deal falls through, it would be hard to escape unscathed. “You put your toe in, your foot in, it’s hard to believe the rest of your body won’t fall in as well,” Craig-Olins said regarding the prospects of a truly limited campaign.  Several students expressed similar pacifistic views of the situation, with senior Terry Altherr saying that instead of striking the regime, “we’d be better off showing our humanitarian side to prove to the world that we’re not a war-hungry nation.”

Similarly, junior Laura Schlossman noted the heightened delicacy of the situation, commenting that “rushing into things can bring bad news, especially after our history.” Certainly, the United States does have a problem with well-intentioned actions coming back to haunt us later (see the hate fostered in Bin laden and his cohorts or in any of the Caribbean countries that we invaded in the early 1900s with our Big Stick).

Yet under no circumstances can we, and the world, sit idly by while children and adults are randomly being gassed by a teetering, insecure dictator with unspecific weapons specifically designed to inflict a maximum amount of agony and suffering. We are not the world’s policeman, but if no other country and the international community as a whole does not possess the moral fortitude to defend intrinsic human rights, then America must save the day. Far from being American exceptionalism, as Mr. Putin charged in his New York Times Op-Ed, this thought process is in the rest of the world more often referred to as ‘common sense’ and ‘compassion.’

Mind you, the kids who have been eliminated are people that happened to live in sectors of disputed territory by pure chance. These are kids who, instead of growing up in America, had the misfortune of being born into a hellscape. These are kids who never got to say goodbye to their parents, “foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath,” as President Obama described. Imagine if, instead of hugging your child as you sent them off to school, you became the Syrian father who was left “clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.” What if, instead of having been born here, Newton teens were born into a Syrian family. They would be thinking a little bit differently about the need for action if they saw a death-bearing bomb plummet from the sky, not a doubt about it.

We must first and foremost pursue and support the Assad regime’s new efforts to join the weapons-ban and seize the chemical weapons, but at the same time, we cannot let the evil empire buy time while feigning acquiescence to the treaty. If the type of crimes that the abhorrent Assad has allegedly committed continue, it simply goes against human decency to let such incredible atrocities pass without ramifications.

So wake up, people. I dare you to complain about how your iPhone is running low on battery. I dare you to complain about how much homework you have tonight. More constructively, I dare you to stop to think for a minute and seriously put yourself in the shoes of one of 400+ children left writhing on the ground with nerve gas flooding your lungs until they ceased to function, leaving you bereft of life. You would be saying your goodbyes to your family and your friends. On second thought, you wouldn’t be. These kids never got the chance.

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