Vexing question eclipses politics
The day after Donald Trump ordered his retaliatory strikes on the Syrian airfield believed to be the staging area for poison gas attacks on Syrian civilians, Americans were faced with some difficult choices.
Are we to applaud this new, aggressive approach to dealing with war criminals, or was it a mistake to intervene at all? That is something every individual must work out for himself or herself. And if viewed from a purely ambiguous point of view, the answer is not rooted in politics or political parties, but within the hearts and souls of all Americans.
Those with a proactive point of view will look at history and note that much bloodshed and loss of life has occurred when world powers, by default, allowed tyrants to commit murder, mayhem and torture. The most glaring example of this lies in the time it took for the world to react to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews and other minorities.
It wasn’t as if no one knew that Jewish people were being herded into huge groups and shuffled off to concentration camps and death camps. But not wanting to get involved, the Allied powers did little to pursue the truth of Nazi atrocities. It was only when American and British forces physically entered the camps that retreating Nazis had abandoned, that the world saw, firsthand, via newsreels, the horrors of those places.
After that there was no question among outraged westerners that yes, the world’s most powerful nations had an obligation to see that nothing of that sort ever happened again. Some said America, being the world’s most powerful nation, had a duty to intervene in situations where civilians were subject to inhumane atrocities.
Today, many are adamant that it is not our place to act as the world’s policeman, but rather, to spend our time, blood and treasure in building up our own country. Indeed, many feel something akin to the Monroe Doctrine (don’t mess with us and we won’t mess with you) is the most sensible path for America. So who is right? Those who feel intervention is a moral imperative? Or those who stand firm in the notion that America has no right to intervene in foreign affairs unless attacked?
In these matters no one is wholly right and no one is completely wrong. However, being totally pragmatic, it is clear that it is impossible for America or any other nation to address each and every instance of war crimes and inhuman acts committed upon civilians. There are just too many instances of this around the world. Also, many of the perpetrators are guerillas, not standing armies. These groups fade in and out of the public eye, often hiding in jungles and other places where conventional military responses are severely limited.
Nonetheless, some people have such strong opinions that they feel compelled to lash out against all who may disagree. Indeed, I was recently on the receiving end of such an attack. In the middle of a telephone conversation with a friend, her voice suddenly changed its tenor, becoming high-pitched and rough. After listening for a while, I had no choice but to say that I was not in charge of anything and it wasn’t I who launched the strikes against the Syrian dictator. Then my friend, in a huff, abruptly hung up the phone, clearly upset with the results of her actions.
That, in essence, is exactly how we must not act. It makes little sense and achieves nothing to lash out at members of the opposing party. After all, many Republican leaders were themselves indignant at the president’s actions. It comes back, then, to individuals to decide for themselves, in their own minds, how America should react to such crises around the world.
I’ll say that for me, I found it heart-rending to watch film footage of people, men, women and children, even babies, writhing and foaming at the mouth, victims of a poison gas attack. But even so, do I have the moral right to support intervention? I don’t know. And this is what vexes me.
Doing nothing, as exemplified by the non-actions of the last administration, is always an option. But in the end, will America be worse off for failing to intervene in these situations? Will our moral ground be compromised? Again, anything I or anyone else says is mere speculation.
For me, my heart tells me one thing, but my intellect tells me something quite different. And perhaps we needn’t come to any conclusion, at least not immediately. The one thing we all can do is pray for guidance, and that’s exactly what I am doing.
Tom Seymour is a freelance magazine and newspaper writer, book author, naturalist and forager. He lives in Waldo.