This is a sculpture found in ancient Syria around 5000 B.C. It’s a reminder of how glorious a land is today a scene of misery, genocide and fear, as the civil war against the Assad regime worsens and the world contemplates the possibility of a USA missile strike that nobody believes will help the government’s victims.
Syria is a treasure of the world, a place of amazing history. It’s the northern corner of the Biblical lands. It was part of the Roman empire, then the Byzantine empire, then the Islamic empire. It was a target for the Crusades, then for many centuries an Ottoman land, and finally it found itself a remote outpost of France’s confused post-colonial strategy in the 20th Century.
It’s not a big surprise that a land trampled by war for two millennia should today suffer from more and more war — and yet my fellow citizens of the USA who worry about the poor victims of Assad’s chemical weaponry can think of nothing better to do for the suffering country than to shoot gigantic missiles at its cities and hope some bad guys get caught in the wreckage. This is the weak proposal that President Obama is putting before Congress.
I got into a lengthy Facebook debate with several friends about this yesterday. The argument lasted for over a hundred comments — though happily the discussion managed to stay civil and intelligent despite the anguished intensity of the topic. As is often the case, I learned a lot by participating in this Facebook debate. I was mostly struck by the overriding tone of hopelessness, both among those who thought we should bomb Syria and those who thought we shouldn’t. There was a dominant sense that every possible peaceful option had been exhausted, and that only two options remained: bomb or don’t bomb.
First, the answer to “bomb or don’t bomb” is “don’t bomb”. Always. But this doesn’t mean we should do nothing and allow genocide to occur. I insist that we (we, the human race) have not yet exhausted our peaceful options for helping the victims of this war, or for helping the victims of any war. In fact, we haven’t begun to explore our options. We haven’t even identified our options.
What can be done? I’ve written a lot about pacifism before, and I plan to write about it more again. I don’t have time to write a full Philosophy Weekend blog post about this today, because I’m working hard on a new Litkicks poetry project to be launched in the next few days (did I say it would launch this weekend? I’ll need an extra day or two). But I’d like to point to a few blog posts I’ve written before that feel extremely relevant today.
First, here’s why I’m pretty sure that world peace will eventually become a reality on our hapless planet. Pessimists will hate this blog post (or maybe it will help them begin to change their minds).
Here’s my theory as to why we suffer so often from the idiotic scourge of war, which I call the Trauma Theory. In short, the entire planet is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following the two-hundred year orgy of extreme violence that began with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars and has continued to present times. It’s hard to feel hopeful when you’ve got PTSD. Our entire planet has it. We don’t need missiles — we need therapy, and we need it bad.
During my long and informative Facebook debate, I found myself recommending two books that might bring hope to the hopeless: Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker, which I blogged about here, and The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker, which I blogged about here.
In short, what Syria needs is anything but more violence and destruction. What can we do? We can think big. We can stop waiting for our Presidents and Prime Ministers to solve the problem, and take responsibility for finding solutions ourselves. We can gather in the streets, and allow our collective minds to operate where our individual minds can not. We can argue on Facebook and on blogs, and try to understand our isolated points of view better. This won’t instantly defeat the murderous Assad regime, but it will help. There are many reasons not to bomb Syria, and here’s another one: the entire ridiculous debate over whether or not to send more weapons of mass destruction to a land that is already destroying itself is that this sad and hopeless debate is crowding out the bigger debate we need to have: how can we (the human race) finally begin to cure ourselves of the post-traumatic stress disorder from our past two centuries of war, and begin to discover the pleasures of peace?