I woke up, turned on the radio and wanted to go to war. The British parliament had just voted by a comfortable margin not to take military action against Syria. That was something of a surprise, but then came a report about a bombing in northern Syria.
The words were stirring. BBC reporters witnessed the aftermath of a bomb dropped on a school playground. Scores of children suffered napalm-like burns. Ten pupils were killed. Horrific is too kind a description.
Eyewitnesses talked about a fighter jet flying repeatedly overhead, apparently looking for targets, something said to be not unusual in this conflict where gatherings of people have consistently been bombed. The reporter on the scene said there were no shrapnel injuries and little blood, just appalling burns. A screaming Syrian shouted, “United Nations, what kind of peace are you calling for? Don’t you see this?”
I cannot believe that we are standing by and letting this happen. What is wrong with us? Are we so war-weary, so fearful of repeating the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, that we are willing to allow almost Nazi-like atrocities to not only continue, but to go unpunished? Hasn’t history taught us that there is a time to stand up for those who cannot defend themselves?
U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to leave it to American lawmakers to decide whether the world’s policeman will act is noble but dangerous. Just hours after his announcement, Syria was describing Obama’s speech as showing hesitation and confusion. Perish the thought if the elected officials decide to leave Obama’s tail wagging in the wind, a bark with no bite.
The British vote showed the first fracture in the international coalition; any political consensus was broken. Many had thought that country was just doing Obama’s bidding.
Canada condemned the Aug. 21 use of chemical weapons as a despicable and abhorrent act. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said, “Canada believes that a firm and unequivocal response is needed to deter any future use of chemical weapons. We also believe that a clear message on the proliferation and use of such weapons must be sent to rogue regimes around the world.”
Great words, but we were still willing to stand as a witness instead of a participant to battle the human rights violations.
Peace-lovers out there will say it’s not our fight. What will military action accomplish? History tells us what happens if we do not. Obama was right when he said, “What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?”
The reality is America should not have to play the role of cop, but a lame United Nations has become more of a place for talk than for action. This war has gone on for months. Threats and fears that chemical weapons would be used or that civilians were being slaughtered mattered not.
The world needs a new way to deal with international conflicts. The Cold War may be over, but little has changed in the way countries line up when taking sides to deal with Syria or other such matters. It is unfortunate that as usual, it takes a crisis to show us what works and what doesn’t.
This scribe writing from an island in the North Atlantic doesn’t have the answers, but I do know that on an early morning one day last week, after hearing about the reported atrocities, I was willing to sign up myself, to do battle with a foe that showed no hesitation in killing its own.
Next Wednesday marks 12 years since 9-11. Events that changed the world as we knew it are almost forgotten, but the impacts live on. Airline travel is no longer the joy it was; indeed, suspicion is everywhere. The truth is, the terrorists won. We are still paying the price.
Make no bones about it. North Korea, Iran and like countries are watching the action or inaction on Syria. The time for watching is over.
We said never again. Let’s live up to our word.
If not us, who?
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and
former broadcaster. He can be reached