After the Rwandan genocide, the world said, “Never again.” Almost 20 years later, most people seem to have forgotten that promise in Syria.
Critics will say that we cannot solve every injustice in the world with our military. Nicholas Kristof rightly points out, however, that this is not “every injustice.” And let’s be clear: We have tried diplomacy for more than two years in Syria, and it will still be needed, but more than 100,000 dead, 5,000 people killed per month, and 2 million refugees demands action.
I understand the reluctance to use our military for fear of losing loved ones. I also understand the frustration that others in the international community have not stepped up. But these are not legitimate excuses for inaction. If we believe in the principles we espouse, we must protect others who cannot protect themselves. We cannot hide from the world like hobbits.
Many Americans forget how fortunate they are to live in the United States. The fact that one was born in the U.S. instead of some war-torn land is pure luck. The tables could easily be turned.
If we accept this randomness of the universe, we can then begin to accept our connection to everyone in this world. We are not simply American citizens; we are global citizens. Our duty is to help those in crisis.
Romeo Dallaire, the U.N. general in Rwanda during the genocide, wrote, “As soldiers we have been used to moving mountains to protect our own sovereignty from risks to our way of life. In the future we must be prepared to move beyond national self-interest to spend our resources and spill our blood for humanity. We have lived through centuries of enlightenment, reason, revolution, industrialization, and globalization. No matter how idealistic the aim sounds, this new century must become the Century of Humanity, when we as human beings rise above race, creed, colour, religion and national self-interest and put the good of humanity above the good of our own tribe.”
In the spirit of that sentiment, I pose the question that Raphael Lemkin once asked: “If women, children, and old people would be murdered a hundred miles from here, wouldn’t you run to help? Then why do you stop this decision of your heart when the distance is 3,000 miles instead of a hundred?”
Lemkin’s question was on point. At the beginning of the Syrian uprising, 15 young boys were kidnapped by the secret police for spray-painting messages of revolution on a school building. When the fathers of these boys went to the police chief, he told them, “Forget that you have these kids. Go and make other ones.” Right now, these words may as well belong to us.