Into the Abyss
October 7, 2016
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Aleppo, Syria is 5,973 miles from Divine Child High School here in Dearborn, Michigan. Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson, knew nothing of Aleppo when asked what he would do as President to help the situation in Syria specifically the city under attack the most. If a presidential candidate knows nothing about Aleppo, why should high schoolers in Dearborn, Michigan be expected to know anything about Aleppo?
Maybe, we should know about the over 100 children that have been killed in Aleppo since Friday alone, with the number growing every single day. Or maybe we should know about the White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, who execute 9/11 like rescue missions every time a bombing happens, which in case you weren’t aware: is a lot. Or maybe we should know about seven-year-old Bana Alabed, who has to send out tweets like the following every morning to let her 51.2 thousand followers know that her and her family made it through the night.
For the past four and a half years, the city of Aleppo has been under attack. With rebel groups making initial headway, they gained control of the Eastern portion of the city. After government military forces stopped the advance, the city has for simplification been split in two, with the government in control of the West and rebel groups still in control of the East. The past four years have been a war of attrition. Neither side has been able to gain much momentum if any at all, and the fighting has been a stalemate. The issue present here is not necessarily the fighting itself, as wars have been going on since the beginning of time. It is the over two hundred fifty thousand innocent civilians still trapped inside of the city with no way out. For reference, the city of Ann Arbor is home to roughly one hundred seventeen thousand people. Imagine taking two times the population of Ann Arbor and then some, and trapping them all in a city with no way for them to leave or access necessary supplies and medical treatment to survive. That is what the people of Aleppo, Syria face on an everyday basis.
With death tolls of the war reaching 450,000 according to www.iamsyria.org, and supplies such as food, water, and medical supplies running low in Aleppo, a cease-fire was needed in order to help the civilians. On September 10, Secretary of State John Kerry, announced that the United States and Russia had brokered a cease-fire meant to allow supplies to reach the innocent civilians. Only a week in existence, the cease-fire agreement fell apart, as an aid-convoy was bombed and prevented from reaching its destination. The city of Aleppo is in desperate need of materials that it simply cannot gain access too.
Two weeks ago, Russian and Syrian military forces ramped up the bombing and airstrikes on Eastern Aleppo in an attempt to drive out the rebel forces. These airstrikes are claimed to be targeted for rebel military forces only, although civilians account for the majority of casualties. Again, www.iamsyria.org reports that in the days between September 21 and September 26, 377 people have been killed because of the attacks, while 369 are civilian deaths. 97 percent of the deaths in that five day span are civilian deaths. The scale and the sheer amount of innocent civilians dying because of this war are at unprecedented heights. Rebel forces are not the ones dying because of these airstrikes. Civilians with no way out because every road leading out of town is under fire 24/7, are the people who are suffering. Presidential candidate Gary Johnson knew nothing of the 450,000 people that have been killed in this conflict, or the 250,000 still under siege in Aleppo with necessities at a scarcity, so why should we have any clue?
We should know about the White Helmet organization, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense. For the past five years, this organization has tasked themselves with rescuing has many people as they can from the destruction of airstrikes. According to their website, they have rescued 62,000 people since the war began five years ago. Efforts like that are the reason the group is up for a Nobel Peace Prize and were featured in a documentary released on Netflix in the middle of September.
After watching the documentary on the White Helmets, one thing stood out. The efforts that these people perform on a daily basis can only be compared to the rescue efforts put forth by first responders to the attacks on September 11. We hear stories all the time about the heroic efforts of the firefighters or policemen who risked their lives on that fateful day to save the lives of the people in the buildings. Documentaries flood our TV screens every year when September 11, rolls around as it should, of the extraordinary efforts of the people on that day. On a daily basis in Aleppo, however, these rescues are taking place. It is not once or twice a month, or once or twice a week even. Every single day the people of the White Helmets arrive at the scene before anyone else, and risk their lives digging through rubble to save the lives of others. The single, solitary stories will be lost. There are too many days, too many rescues to remember as vividly as a first responder from 9/11 would. The rescue efforts as a whole, must be recognized though, as this group does what no one else in the world is willing to do.
The White Helmets go through a one month training program in order to gain the necessary skills required to pull of rescue efforts in the limited time frame that they have. The training program takes them away from their hometowns and their families who are always under threat of attack. One trainee discusses the sacrifice that it takes to go through the program and ultimately become a member of the White Helmets. He says that life is about sacrifice, however, and this is the sacrifice that he has to make. Mohammed Farah was with a small coalition that opposed the government for three months. After seeing the regime continuously attack innocent civilians, he left to join the White Helmets. “It is better to save a life, than to take one,” Farah states in the film. The White Helmets save lives on an incomprehensible scale. This is a group we should know about no matter where we live in the world. The efforts and sacrifices these people make is deserving of so much more than a Nobel Peace Prize. It deserves our attention back here in the United States and deserves at the very minimum an awareness and a knowledge of what they risk and what they do on a daily basis.
We should know about seven year old, Bana Alabed. With the help of her mother Fatemah, Bana started and continues to run a Twitter account that has gained over fifty thousand followers since its inception on September 24.
The tweets speak for themselves. No seven year old should have to let the world know that they are alive every morning and did not fall victim to the countless bombings that occurred throughout the night. Bana tweets about trying to forget about the war through certain activities like reading. Imagine trying to read a book, and your brother knocks a chair down in the kitchen. And then he does it again, and again, and again. And your brother knocks down the chair seemingly every minute of every day with no end in sight. Now take that noise and multiply it to an enormous extent, and then try and read your book. Oh, and by the way you are only seven years old. Something so simple that we take for granted every day, like being able to read a book in a quiet area, yet virtually impossible for Bana and all the children trapped in Aleppo. We need to know about the children and the lives and all the potential that is being thrown away because of this war.
The children of Aleppo do not have a hope for education. As we sit in schools across America, children in Aleppo are trapped in their homes because it is too dangerous for them to go to school, or worse yet, their school has been destroyed by a bomb. The education that is taken for granted is the only thing children like Bana Alabed long for in Aleppo. We need to know what the children trapped in Aleppo are missing out on because of the constant airstrikes and bombing from their own government.
We should know what the Syrian government, along with Russian forces, are doing to Eastern Aleppo. While half of the largest city in the country sits in ruins and rubble, with children dying every day, the Syrian government still claims Aleppo has a popular tourist destination. The Syrian Tourism Ministry released a one minute forty five second video promoting Aleppo. The entire video focuses on the crystal clear waters and the countless people enjoying the sandy beach, almost like a Spring Break in Florida or Mexico. The video closes without any footage inside the actual city, only focusing on the beach and surrounding areas with one final line: Syria always beautiful. The background music must drown out the sound of planes flying overhead, dropping bombs on its own innocent civilians. The video missed the less beautiful parts of Syria and Aleppo: the leveled buildings, the children covered in blood and debris from the latest airstrikes, and the lack of supplies for its own people.
While one half of the city is promoted as a tourist hot spot, the Syrian government is busy using barrel bombs on the forgotten Eastern half. These bombs have the capability to completely level areas with one drop. The Syrian government has been using these bombs as a way to drive out rebel forces. But when rebel forces are living in the most populated city in the country, it wreaks havoc for the innocent civilians trapped.
2016 is election year in the United States. Presidential candidate Gary Johnson has already burnt himself by not being aware of the situation in Aleppo. Barack Obama, and whoever our next President may be, will need to take a firm stance in how to deal with the crisis in Syria, especially Aleppo. In the Vice Presidential debate on Tuesday, Republican candidate Mike Pence clearly laid out his opinion on the situation saying the US should use military force if Russia continues with its ‘barbaric’ like attack on the Syrian people. Pence feels that the bombing of Syria’s own people needs to stop immediately.
How much good could be done with a United States military intervention? This question has plagued current President Barack Obama and will continue to plague whoever the next President may be. On one hand, with the best military and best technology in the world, the United States hypothetically could accomplish the task of driving the rebels out of Eastern Aleppo. It is all a debate about time, resources, and most importantly, American lives. What would it take to drive out the forces that be in Eastern Aleppo? And that is the million dollar question. How much help could the United States be in resolving a situation that has been going on for five years? If the US were to get sucked into the situation in Syria, we would not want to see another situation like what occurred in Iraq. Ultimately, I think that is what America is fearful of is another slow, drawn out war with no clear cut choice on who is ‘winning’.
The problem that these President’s face is when is enough is enough. Let’s say our next President does not feel that anything can be done from an American standpoint to help the situation. How many innocent civilians would have to die at the hands of their own government? How many children would have to be orphaned or slaughtered before it is a necessity for action to be taken? The solution is not easy and clear cut. Either choice is going to have its negative repercussions back here in America. What is not an option here is ignoring the situation entirely. Too many lives have already been sacrificed to this war and too many more will fall victim to the same death. A decision needs to be taken one way or the other too ultimately help the 250,000 people still trapped in Aleppo, Syria.
5,973 miles away, it is easy to wonder why does Aleppo matter to us. Why should we know let alone care what is happening across the globe? We need to know what the Syrian government is doing to its own citizens, its own people. We need to know about the people like the White Helmets, who continuously sacrifice and risk their lives to save the lives of others. We need to know about Bana Alabed, who at seven years of age cannot attend school with the other children of Aleppo because it is simply too dangerous to even leave her home. We need to know about the over 100 children that have been slaughtered at the hands of the Syrian government in the past week alone. We need to know about the 450,000 people who were not able to make it out of Syria alive with that number growing astronomically everyday. We cannot ignore or forget about Aleppo, Syria. The people of Aleppo are going through a living hell every single day with no end in sight. We, as a country, as a world, need to know what is going on in Aleppo Syria.