Where Dreams Go To Die ideals are no longer enough

by Glen Pearson

Whatever became of those hopeful doctrines Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and the Will to Intervene (W2I)? They were supposed to take us to the next level in humanity’s battle against those acts of hatred that escalated into war crimes and genocide. Though fraught with legal complexities, they were nevertheless agreed to by most advanced nations, in spirit at least, and were designed to drag the world’s most deadly thugs to the ground, and ultimately to trial.

But that was in another era - a more hopeful time when the more powerfully affluent nations, claiming they had learned their lessons from tragedies like Rwanda, determined to use their collective clout to mitigate the worst of human actions. It was a time before the failure of Iraq’s “Shock and Awe,” before Russia’s sabre rattling in Eastern Europe, and before the debacles now taking place in Mosul and Aleppo.

Now we stand hopeless and helpless as extreme outsized personalities tower over vulnerable regions and their millions of inhabitants.

The intent of this column isn’t to lay blame, for blame and judgment are shared everywhere and by all of humanity. After reading accounts like Terry Glavin’s in the National Post last week, one can’t help but feel a collective sense of failure that borders on the tragic. His personal stories from Aleppo are not only horrific in the retelling but completely damning in their finality - affirming the observation of UN spokesperson Jans Laerke that Aleppo now represents, “a complete meltdown of humanity.”

Humanity has failed

Raging across social and traditional media has been the assigning of fault for such tragedy; it has been laid squarely at the feet of the global political leaders and the United Nations. Such accusations contain merit but are hardly complete. The UN can only accomplish what its member countries permit, and those nations have been in the process of reading the collective minds of their citizens. Their conclusion? There will be no real action undertaken, only a lashing out with angry rhetoric at the global bullies.

Which brings all this back to us - citizens. Glavin calls it bluntly:

“In the world’s citadels of democracy, there are no popular constituencies sufficient to the task of commanding our elected leaders to put their backs into the emancipation of the Syrian people from their tormentors … The truth of it is we’d just rather not take the trouble. We aren’t prepared to suffer the sacrifices demanded of the commitments to universal rights we profess, so we absolve ourselves by talking about ‘the Muslim world’ as though it were a distant planet … It’s easier on our conscience that way.”

There it is: at all levels there has been the complicit willingness to just let it go. The personal accounts, for all their horrific details, don’t move us to action - though they make it easier to blame the UN. We have been advised to avert our gaze and we have consented.

This is where our greater ideals, our collective dreams of a better world, go to die. This isn’t like Auschwitz, where full disclosure took months and years. Everything in the Aleppo massacre has been played out in real time, on screens of all sizes, and in parliaments around the world. But it’s also at street level, where, in countries like our own, there is a growing willingness to let such things play out “over there.” The problem with all that, of course, is that it’s only a matter of time until the fallout from such travesties will have dire effects “over here” - especially in the increasing masses of humanity seeking security.

We should take note of Clifford Cohen’s observation: “The tyrant’s formula for every genocide since the beginning of time: differentiate, divide, destroy.” Increasingly, the response of affluent governments and their people has been: “Decry, denounce, delay.” Well, we’ve waited too long and Aleppo is finished.

Many claim it’s all just too complicated, too rife with possible after effects that could make a bad situation worse. Perhaps. But our one big takeaway from all this should be clear: as the tyrants destroy with impunity, those progressive elements of humanity are decidedly in retreat merely by not acting. We must know where all this will end, and hiding behind our own borders or our angry rhetoric won’t change the outcome.

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Glen Pearson


Vanity Fair

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