I suspect that there are many who, like me, spent years thinking that there was only one Civil War. Maybe it’s because it was called “The Civil War.” But as I continued in my study of History it became evident that there have been hundreds upon hundreds of insurrections with countries in which citizens took up arms against their neighbors, their friends, and even their relatives.
We have dramatized the American Civil War to the point that it has become a romantic venture. However, it was the bloodiest war we have known, and we have very little to be proud about in the execution of it. The principles, including the establishment of freedom for slaves, are commendable and certainly key moments in our history. But the methods of warfare and the brutality toward others who have shared citizenship with us is nothing to brag about. In fact, it is shameful to know the details of the war.
Today we are faced with another Civil War. Not here on American soil, but in Syria, a nation relatively unknown to Americans. It is one of “those nations” that have been piled into what we call “the Middle East.” Our knowledge of the Middle East is sketchy and is filled with all kinds of stereotypes and biases which make it seem sketchy and insignificant. Probably the vehicle which has helped us most in understanding something about the Middle East is oil. It has dominated our relationships with Middle Eastern countries and protocols for interaction with people of that region have been established which makes the citizens of places like Syria seem cloudy and mysterious.
The fact is that Syria is populated by people dissimilar to us in the way that they carry out their search for meeting daily needs and their goals. It is a country without huge oil reserves so we haven’t talked a lot about it. It is a relatively poor country and its government is beyond our understanding much of the time. Our stated goals of helping Syria become a democratic nation like ours are pure fantasy.
Like our own American Civil War there are issues which separate people into camps. The major difference is that while we had (basically) two camps, there are dozens or hundreds of such camps in Syria. It has a President, but he is a dictator, the son of the previous dictator, and in a family that dominates the government of the country. Any attempt to try to identify Syria’s government through the eyes of Americans falls short unless we have gone there and seen for ourselves what it means to be a part of a tribe or to live in a portion of a country which is dominated by people who have their own vision of what Syria is and are prepared to defend it.
Now we are tempted to join in the battle of the Syrian Civil War as a result of atrocities brought upon the people by the President/Dictator. We are properly offended by those acts and want to do whatever we can to make sure they don’t happen again. Our unspecified plan for that is to assist in “bringing down” the current government and seeing it exchanged for a more democratic form of governance. For some reason, we believe (and others have led us to believe) that we are capable of doing that. It is clearer every day that our engagement in the interior life of Syria is a fantasy…and a very dangerous fantasy.
If we want to assist those who are in the opposition to the leadership that is one thing…and probably not a bad idea. But our thoughts about “fixing” the situation by attacking Syria is off the mark. The last thing the world needs now is another world war. Syria is the trigger to such a war. Let’s let a civil war remain a civil war. Standing by the sidelines and watching, doing nothing is not the answer. But a limited assistance to the opposition can be an effective way of shortening what is already a disaster.