Op-ed: Taking Syria Seriously
BY Michelle Garcia
September 10 2013 8:00 AM ET
There are probably some compelling arguments out there about why we should bomb Damascus. Some of them will probably be left in the comment section for this very op-ed. Others will be made by the president during a national address tonight, followed by everyone in my Facebook feed. For now, however, I am fatigued by war, as are 59% of Americans who oppose our bombing Syria.
In the U.S., there are kids now attending middle school who have lived only during wartime. It's even difficult for me to remember a time of peace. I was nearly 17 when the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, where my aunt and uncle worked, were attacked 12 years ago this week. My uncle fortunately rushed down 40 flights of stairs to escape the worst-case scenario after the plane struck the building. My aunt was still on the train on the way to work as the tower crumbled. We trembled in our home, counting the seconds since we last heard from my dad, a federal emergency manager who worked in New York City at the time. I was lucky — my dad walked through our front door very late that night. Meanwhile, my cross-country teammates, friends, and classmates lost family members who either worked at the World Trade Center or bravely rushed in to heroically show the world what America does in the face of a crisis.
When we graduated high school nine months later, a significant proportion of my classmates headed to the armed forces instead of college. Initially, I think we saw the war in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, as our generation's World War II — a defining moment where young people put their lives on the line for a noble cause much larger than themselves. We were so compelled to do something, but we could not comprehend the effects of war on individual service members and their families, or the impact of a decade at war on shaky grounds.
Even when I went to college, reservists returned to our idyllic campus after one tour overseas as affected, distant versions of themselves. Their pain was palpable, but admittedly it's something we civilians privileged enough to live in a country where we're not constantly avoiding bombs will never understand. They experienced visceral, taxing war at the age when most of us were deciding whether to intern that summer or agonizing over which frat parties to go to on Tuesday nights. And let's not forget many in the trenches not only dodged bullets but also had to dodge being outed or sexually assaulted.
In a way, I think there’s something to be said for bombing Syria. It took several years before Americans got involved as the Nazis ravaged Europe. Meanwhile, Syria has been embroiled in its own bloody, devastating civil war for two years, leading to at least 100,000 deaths and 2 million refugees. Half of those refugees are children, and at least a thousand children were reportedly killed by chemical attacks. As life for LGBT Russians gets scarier by the day, I can only think about how important it is that the international community steps in to act as the defenders of those who cannot defend themselves.
The point of bombing Syria, we are told, would be to preserve the international understanding that no country is ever to use chemical weapons. But when we threaten to take military action against Syria without the help or support of our allies, it's hard to avoid resembling that obnoxious cousin who gets involved in a couple's argument at a family reunion. Is it really our place? Do we really know what we’re stepping into?
Beloved lesbian brainiac Rachel Maddow made the argument in her 2012 book Drift that it has become too easy for Americans to go to war, as a very small population of this country actually goes off to do the dirty work, and our military service is voluntary. We weren't asked to give up tax cuts before going into Afghanistan or Iraq. Our fragmented news media can barely afford adequate coverage of all of the news happening in the world, leading to a less knowledgeable base of viewers/voters. And, let's face it, a significant portion of people who voluntarily join the military are doing so to avoid joblessness or poverty. If you're of a certain class in America, the chance of you knowing multiple people joining the ranks nowadays is probably fairly slim. It's easy to tempt battle when neither you nor your children nor your friends have to don fatigues and handle an assault rifle.
So as we ramp up the drama around whether to bomb Syria without the support of allies, I wonder whether this is worth the potential pain of unforeseen consequences.
MICHELLE GARCIA is The Advocate's commentary editor. She is not an expert on Syria. Follow her @MzMichGarcia