It’s sometimes said the biggest crime of the 20th Century was silence.
Silence when millions of Jews were put to death, silence when the Turks perpetrated genocide against Armenians, silence when the Pol Pot regime tortured and butchered Cambodians, silence when rival ethnic groups in Uganda went on murderous rampages.
Silence – the turning away from such atrocities – amounts to complicity. Such vicious crimes and their innocent victims scream out for world attention, for people and countries far and wide to demand of the perpetrators: “Stop! Enough! End this killing now!”
That is why President Barack Obama is correct in calling for strikes against the Assad regime in Syria after his military used nerve gas against civilians, killing nearly 1,000 people, including more than 400 children. It was a monstrous crime that makes one’s blood run cold. Assad has been committing atrocities against his people for years with bullets and bombs, as well as previous smaller-scale uses of chemical weapons. Unfortunately, that brutal tyrant has the backing of Russia, China and Iran – countries notorious for their flagrant disregard for human rights. There ought to be a global howl of outrage about this crime. But, fortunately at least, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, Turkey, the United States and some other countries have condemned Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Sadly, the outcry should be louder and totally universal, and there should be a unanimous demand to punish the Assad regime.
Let us hope the U.S. Congress approves limited strikes against Assad’s war machine.
The American people, rightly so, are opposed to getting involved in another Mid-East war. However, limited air strikes against carefully chosen targets (military installations) are not going to lead to any sort of “boots-on-the-ground” involvement in Syria. Such strikes would be a decisive way to demonstrate to Assad that his use of chemical weapons is a vicious violation of international accords and that it won’t be tolerated. Yes, it is possible, once the strikes have taken place, that Assad could thumb his nose at the world and use chemical weapons again. But if he does, such a repeated atrocity is likely to outrage more and more countries that will, collectively, finally come down hard on that violent regime.
There is no perfect, easy way out of this dilemma. Obama is, indeed, between a rock and a hard place. And there is no guarantee punishment strikes would “work.” But to remain silent, to not do anything, is to be indirectly complicit in these crimes against humanity. It’s true the United States cannot be global “police officers.” But, at the very least, this nation (ideally with the help of other countries) can register outrage and help become a conscience for the world. Assad and other tyrants should not be allowed to get away with such atrocities; they should be punished; they should be made to suffer because of the hideous deaths they have visited upon their people. Other murderous tyrants, waiting in the wings with their chemical weapons, must be made to take notice.