Empty words in the face of war

Gerry Phelan
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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

at gerryp@bellaliant.net

Organizations: United Nations, BBC

Geographic location: Syria, Northern Syria, U.S. Canada Iraq Afghanistan North Atlantic North Korea Iran

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Recent comments

  • Joe
    September 08, 2013 - 10:08

    Jerry I'm willing to send you, Stevie and Baird to fight the war. Make your plans to leave soon.

  • Stephano
    September 07, 2013 - 09:28

    Speaking as a conservative American, we won't follow this president into war or any kind of military conflict. President Obama's strategic objective in all foreign policy is to reduce US preeminence. In the perverted foreign policy perspective of liberals, the United States is one of the greatest sources of instability in the world. We'll be damned if we will lend our backing to an administration that is bent on diminishing our country domestically and internationally. The time to act in Syria was two years ago before the situation metastasized. But Pres. Obama and Mrs Clinton were to busy sending Russia mistranslated "reset" buttons to Pres. Putin and making unilateral strategic concessions throughout the mideast and the world. At the very least Pres. Obama should have prepared the argument for drawing the red line and built coalitions to enforce the red line before having spoken it. Pres. Obama is delusional if he thinks that we will back him in order to save his wounded narcissistic pride at having spoken his "red line" warning and watched as the entire world just ignored him. Now get behind us where you belong and "lead". He has reaped the wind of US abdication abroad and now it is time to reap the whirlwind. We are witnessing the unravelling of Liberal US foreign policies as the entire mideast is up in flames. Oh well.

  • Roger Lynde
    September 06, 2013 - 09:29

    We didn't go to war with Vietnam, we didn't invade Iraq in 2003 either. We did take part in Operation Desert storm and contrary to what you believe Pol. Incor. Canada made that life and death decision on more than a publicity stunt by an ambassadors daughter. I have/had problems with Canadians, primarily young men, dying in Afghanistan. From what I've read most of them are proud to have helped many in that country. It's for them to say if our efforts were worth it. For me the only opinion that counts is that of the soldier who puts his/her life on the line. Syria is a mess, Assad is not a nice fellow, I hear he too is good at killing women and children. That is not just something "we" do.

  • Politically Incorrect
    September 06, 2013 - 07:40

    Let's see, we went to war against Iraq because of we were told of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. We went to war against Afghanistan in retaliation for the attacks on New York, although it was the Saudi royal family giving support and money to Al-Qaeda. We went into war against Iraq earlier after giving insurances to Saddam that we had no issue with the invasion of Kuwait and on the strength of a publicity stunt by a girl claiming to witness babies being thrown out of incubators -- that girl turned out to be the Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter. We went to war in Vietnam on the fabricated attack on US warships... and now we're told, and you seem to believe it, Gerry, that there is indisputable evidence linking the Syrian government to these gas attacks. Where is this evidence? Isn't it more likely that the rebels or an outside third party would have more to gain from this crime? I don't know who used the gas, but if we're looking at war crimes, we should start looking at ourselves and how our industries benefit from … no depend on ongoing global conflict.