Before Damascus, there was Aleppo, though no one thought yet to call it so. Instead, the ancient Ebla tablets dubbed the great city as Hal-lam, and the city endured. It endured the rebellion brought forth by the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni; its fortifications withstood, and later hosted, Alexander the Great, and the city remained strong when resurgent Byzantine forces sacked and torched all that was left in their wake. Aleppo, the jewel of the Levant, survived the battering rams that history lent external actors since the 6th millenium BC. Today, it falls.
ISIS – or, as world leaders unwilling to linguistically concede Syria, would call them: ISIL – saw to that. Thousands of years of history now sits torn to shreds – not symbolically, literally – and in its rubble are the graves of the city’s stubborn inhabitants. The men, the women, the children, the aid workers, the journalists, the medical dispatchers – all dead. Or about to be dead. Or in the process of dying. It may be politically incorrect to say that Aleppo has been crushed, but in order to remain factually correct, you could hardly say otherwise.
The largest and most famous canal lining the city’s pathways has now been re-branded as “The River of Martyrs,” which is appropriate given the canal’s popularity as a dumping ground for the recently executed. Not too long ago, around the mid-2000’s, there were murmurings about a plan for an extensive reconstruction of the City’s priceless landmarks. Those whispers fizzled around the same time Bashar Al-Assad decided to chemical blast his own people. The civil war and its evil – and Assad is evil – autocrat left the city struggling for breath. ISIS ripped its jugular.
But you do not want to hear about that. You want to hear about stagnant wages and pending permissive legislation about marijuana. You want an infographic detailing your individual share of the national debt, but you doze when the topic drifts to how federal treasury bonds actually function. Not that these points of interest are unworthy of your attention, but what about Nada? Nada, a Sunni woman detained by her own government, was hit so hard her braces tore through her flesh and poked out her cheek. Do you want to hear about her?
Well, “Nada’ and “Sunni” might be a little too… to strike ire in your heart. How about Peter Kassig? He was a medic that talked like you; that dressed like you. Did you see his head roll around in the dirt, separated – as it was – from its body? What about the hundreds, the thousands, of people sold into sex-syndicates or beaten bloody or that have had their toenails ripped with pliers; the arms and legs of children poking out of the shattered remnants of a former schoolhouse?
I get it, I do: You are wary of war and you are weary of war. You have been tricked before. I remember – if I had been older, I would have been as zealous as you, and would not have been as painfully aware of how pathetic you looked, with your cheeks blushing after you realized just how easily they tricked you. With the expanse of the Pacific and the Atlantic hugging both sides of this country, you feel safe and you should feel safe. We will always be able – more so than anyone else is or will ever be, at least in the near future – to protect ourselves. We only have to ask, do we want to extend the same to others?
Of course, America has always been there to lend aid in the wake of an international crisis, but this new crop of kids are cagey: They are selfish. They do not see the need to look beyond our borders. They do not understand that the ease in our lives is so heavily dependent on our trade and cooperation and involvement with other nations.
We have seen this isolationism before. After World War I, no one – especially the progressives – wanted anything to do with the new myriad of atrocities occurring across Europe. We were only just recovering from The Great Depression and no one wanted to repeat the bloodshed our men faced in the trenches. Fortunately for us, we had FDR – an asset we do not have now – who saw the necessity for our future to preserve the existence of our Western allies and the cowardice of those decrying intervention. He planned in secrecy with Churchill (and Stalin) for a mode of attack and waited until the most politically opportune moment – that would be Pearl Harbor – to strike.
What happened? We ended the war – we did – and flooded money into the nations we smashed, thereby entrenching our supremacy for decades to come. The fact that the expensive military intervention was ultimately good for us economically is an important point, but it is a point that misses the boat.
At the risk of sounding corny, I believe compassion is the correct rhetorical course. A day will come when it will be hard to quantify the benefits of doing the right thing in a codifiable manner. The day may come when the right thing to do will morph into whatever seems to be the most economically beneficial vis-à-vis the simplest calculus – a day in which we believe the right thing is synonymous with the easiest thing.
For example, the World Bank now releases numbers quantifying the amount of money different environmental actors generate. Now when a country wants to decimate a coral reef to pave the way for construction on a resort, they can consult the World Bank’s assessment to see just how much the natural processes the reef provided for free is worth. The problem is that the coral reef may not always generate as much easy cash as a resort would. The problem occurs when the simplest economic argument obscures the actual conversation; that being: How much is the world worth to you?
Sure, the Gates of Bab al-Hadid and the Al-Aquin Mosque were priceless. They are also gone now. But the citizens of Syria are still there; shuddering and scared and alone. And they are alone. Just remember, whenever we sit and run a crude cost-benefit analysis on intervention as per our own national interests, we are putting a price-tag on people. This might be fine, as long as we acknowledge that that is what we are doing. We forget this, we do. Yes, a military intervention could produce more terrorists, but how many terrorists are we creating by letting these organizations run unfettered?
It’s a debate and it is a debate worth having. Let’s just remember what it is we are debating.