The tragedies of Syria are multiple: a gruesome civil war with over one hundred thousand killed, tens of thousands of refugees, shattered cities and towns and shattered psyches of children who will never know what it means to grow up in peace are just some we can name. Now the world is faced with the morally reprehensible use of toxic gas against civilians, violating not only world covenants like the Geneva Protocol but the most rudimentary principles of just war.
The world finds itself paralyzed at the moment, incapable of arriving at any strategy for disciplining the heinous acts of Assad’s government while holding its nose as it offers support to rebel groups which have been cruel and inhumane in their conduct of war. Even as the United States considers what, if any, action to take,we should be cognizant of the fact that our paralysis is due in some significant measure to the previous war in Iraq, itself an unjust invasion of a country that did not attack us based upon outright lies and deception. We were marched into a war and for all intents, duped. That war led to over four thousand American deaths and as many as 100,000 civilian deaths. No wonder citizens in this country are wary of President Obama’s plea that we do something to counteract the war crime of gassing one’s populace.
No less a voice of conscience than the current Pope Francis has urged that violence not be the response to Syria. What to do? While I protested and condemned the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush (I supported with misgivings the attack on al Qaeda in Afghanistan after 9/11), I believe this issue of a nation using chemical weapons transcends the particularity of the Syrian conflict in two ways: first, the use of chemical weapons is universally condemned as a method of warfare and second, the possibility of an expansion of use of chemical and biological weapons in Syria is a concern for the entire world. I am apprehensive to lend support to President Obama’s request for congressional approval to attack Syria, but I believe the world must needs act not only for Syria but the entire world. Throughout history, peoples and nations have cried for help and those cries too often fell on deaf ears, the hearers citing all manner of reasons not to become involved. From the issue of slavery to the holocaust of Jews, from Rwanda to Darfur, the world has often looked on without taking steps to intervene. In hind sight, centuries or decades later, people shake their heads and wonder why the world did not act. Failure to bring Assad to justice and exact a price for having used heinous chemical weapons will embolden not only him but many others. Cautiously, even reluctantly, I am open to the President’s argument. We should be appalled by what has transpired and ask that the UN and leaders around the world act now before there is another ghastly genocide to write along side too many others.
For a counter Christian view, check out the ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas’ piece linked below. For a brief view of the war and its toll, see the link below on the “agony of Aleppo” but be aware, it is difficult to watch. With you, I am praying that wise and humane leaders will work hard to bring an end to the conflict in Syria. With you, I lament the horrors there and I remember that in our own New Testament we are told that in Antioch of Syria, we were first called Christians. May God have mercy on us. Reasonable people may disagree, of course. But all of us surely are praying for peace. As the beautiful young boy featured in the video below says, May God comfort the people. Amen, brother.