Imagining Syria

by MISSY BEATTIE

After Charles died, I tried to convince friends and acquaintances that complaining—squandering even a minute of happiness—is an extravagance they’d regret. Eventually I realized that death of a spouse or loved one couldn’t be understood until it’s experienced. Maybe that’s protection, insulation. Really, how could we approach each day if we knew at the molecular level the agony of bereavement?

I think of this now when I hear the blustering of men devoid of empathy. Of women barren of compassion. Those too blind to see.

This morning when I ran, I passed a sign in front of an enclave of alley shops. It said, “Who’s Next”. Syria. Syria is next, I thought.

A few weeks ago, when running, I heard a man on a phone, a pay phone. “This is the United States of America and this is my son I’m talking about.” I’ve noticed him before, with several bags, asleep on a bench, wrapped in a blanket despite the heat. I’ve thought about him, wanting to know more. Wanting to know what he meant when he said, “This is the United States of America . . .”

This is the United States of America, whose “leadership” is cutting deals to commit acts of savagery in Syria, undaunted by public opposition. During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Sen. John McCain played iPhone poker. Yes, that’s right. While his colleagues heard about rogue regimes and horror, the jingoist was losing thousands of dollars in fake money. But he’d had his say the day before, and his mind, set on war, is inflexible.

I am trying to imagine what it must be like to live in Syria, to be Syrian. Really, I have no reference point, other than a natural disaster, a tornado whose force shattered window glass, blowing scalpel-like shards to amputate bedside table legs. Oh, and lift the roof off our house.

More than 2 million Syrian refugees have fled their country since the civil war began in March of 2011. The number’s expected to reach 3 million by 2013’s end. Think about this. Think about it as you have dinner, watch your favorite TV show, brush your teeth, make love, pour the coffee, kiss the children goodbye before they catch the school bus, as you drive to work.

What would you say to your children? How would you comfort them? How would you tell them that America is poised to explode still more carnage? Really, what would you say? Would you tell those old enough to grasp the concept of hypocrisy that the US condemns the use of chemical weapons even though it is the US that has used and provided them (Agent Orange, white phosphorus, depleted uranium)?

You could explain—that the US establishes the rules governing which countries can use chemical weapons and also determines which countries can include nuclear weapons in their arsenals. That this is American exceptionalism at work.

Probably, you would hold your children close and then say, “Gather a few things you want to take, just a few. We have to leave?” And then answer their question with, “No, I don’t know when we’ll return.”

To what will they return?

And what about those who can’t leave? Those who have no means, the sick, the old?

How does anyone make sense of the senseless?

Think about it.

That Barack Obama will cross a line because he’s determined a “red line” has been crossed. That Obama represents a country that’s crossed red lines for more than 200 years, committing crimes against humanity with each crossing.

From the Rose Garden last Saturday, Obama said with customary arrogance, “We are prepared to strike whenever we choose.”

And on Monday, after McCain and Lindsey Graham met with the president, McCain said it would be “catastrophic” if congress fails to approve the president’s proposal—that our credibility would be “shredded.” (Someone needs to be reminded that US credibility was shredded long ago and that life, our ecosystem, should be the consideration.)

Bloodthirsty Graham then said, “The president has to fix this. We urged the president to up his game.”

Ah, there’s the distillate. It’s a game. Another war game. But it isn’t a game to Syrians. It’s real, deadly.

During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Sec. of State John Kerry was asked if there would be American boots on the ground. He replied that this wouldn’t be off the table. When Sen. Bob Corker challenged, Kerry reversed. “There will not be American boots on the ground in respect to the civil war.” (What exactly does that mean?) In closing, Kerry said not acting would turn America into “spectators of slaughter.”

It’s more accurate to say that a military strike, even a limited one, is an escalation serving to perpetuate America’s role of slaughterer?

An absence of understanding, of being unable to GET the essence of man-made suffering, is not insulation, not self-protection. Instead it’s a separation from empathy.

Let the rest of us imagine we are Syrian. And never be too blind to see.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy