CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said today (4/7/17) “Donald Trump became President of the United States the moment the bombs started dropping.” A starry-eyed Brian Williams of MSNBC waxed on for several minutes about the “beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean” as 59 Tomahawk missiles were launched from U.S. warships.
We – the U.S. – just bombed another country. In addition to the six Syrian soldiers killed there are reports of nine civilian deaths, including four children. Yes, the bombs were aimed at a Syrian airport that supposedly housed chemical weapons. Yes, Bashar al-Assad’s regime just used chemical weapons killing hundreds of innocent people. All acts of war start with the accusation that ‘they had it coming.’ But are we still so barbaric, so unaffected by the horrors of our past wars, so in love with our military might that we can cheer for death and destruction?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, said in a joint statement that “President Assad alone” must bear responsibility for the strike. Without a doubt Assad is guilty of great human atrocity. But, we – not just the President who ordered it or the military personnel who launched the missiles – we as U.S. citizens must take responsibility. Let’s face it. We have built the most powerful military force on earth. Even if we did not agree with the policies that created it or the taxes we paid to fund it, we have been complicit.
We must also take responsibility for the political climate that made the Syrian attack politically expedient. We created the precedent and we elected the president (or let him get elected). Trump saw Syrian’s use of chemical weapons as a great opportunity for a military response that would make him look more presidential and bolster his sagging image; he knew the precedent. I recall Bush’s rise in popularity when he invaded Iraq in 2003 and I recall my own friends and family telling me that I must not criticize, that in time of war we must all support our Commander in Chief.
Trump’s sincerity talking about the ‘beautiful babies’ killed by Assad’s chemical weapons helped us feel justified, even sanctified. The facts make us all hypocrites. In the last few years six million Syrians have fled their country, another 4.8 million have become displaced within it. 470,000 have died since the civil war began. We have turned our back on them, allowing just 14,333 to enter the country.
We have been seduced by the sentiment of our national anthem – “Bombs bursting in air . . .” and the glory of our past wars – “over there, over there . . . the Yanks are coming.” Why don’t we sing patriotic about the work of the Peace Corp or scores of humanitarian efforts we lead around the world? Why does generosity appear weak and bombing appear presidential?
Even if we could not have saved the children that Assad killed with his chemicals we could have given others hope — reaching out to them as a country, offering our help and our homes. Instead we are proud that we punished an evil man.
Continuing to wax poetic about the bombing, Brian Williams misused Leonard Cohen’s line, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” This phrase has nothing to do with military conquest, and everything to do with winning over an audience. Cohen lauded the power of love:
“I locked you in this body
I meant it as a kind of trial
You can use it for a weapon
Or to make some woman smile.”
Let us not praise our weapons. Let us feel humbled by our selfish inaction, not proud of destructive response.