Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pondering Syria From My Air-Conditioned Bunker in Missouri

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This morning as I opened my eyes, I was struck by the stillness in my home. It was still dark, there was no light leaking through the tiny gaps in the closed blinds and there were none of the sounds of cars moving through sleepily on their way to work. I could only hear the smooth hum of the central air already at work, cooling our home in a strange, late heat wave. I remembered then, “It is Saturday”. Then I silently took inventory of those I love, two asleep in my home, two away in their own lives almost certainly safe, cozy and asleep with their partners. I moved my foot to search for the warmth of my husband and found him next to me, not away in another time zone calculating a time to call home. I relaxed and tried to close my eyes again but my mind had already jumped into motion. I thought about the threatened air strikes. I thought about the images with which we have been bombarded throughout the week, images of dusty, olive skinned children with brown eyes who could easily have been mine. I thought about the photos of tired looking Syrian faces holding signs suggesting that the world had abandoned them. Then as I often do when I hear of misery and conflict in a country far from mine, I imagined a woman like me, a mother whose day might not have begun with the luxury of the cool, quiet darkness, safely taking inventory of her life. 

I have a tendency to view the world through my two worlds. I view it through my life in Missouri where I live in a suburb of Kansas City and through my job which I do virtually, providing business English training to executives in their offices in France.  Both presidents, Obama and Hollande are speaking of the “red line” which has been crossed in the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Each are speaking of military action. Each indicates that at a minimum air strikes are in order. Meanwhile the residents of both countries are evaluating what that means and how that reflects in each of our countries and in each of our lives. 

Americans and the French seem to share a rather mutual respect and admiration for one another while each quietly harbors a mild disdain for the other. I really boil it down to a significant cultural difference and sense of nationalism that neither cares to evaluate. I find myself nodding in agreement to both and indulging in the beauty of the contrast that both offer. This week I conducted my own sondage, a poll. I asked about 50 of my French friends their thoughts on the subject. I was interested to learn that the results seem to mirror those conducted in the US. I heard the same concerns expressed as those that I hear from my American friends. Most people in both countries seem to be in objection to any sort of military involvement. Most feel that any involvement would result in a fight made much larger and complicated by political battles that we simply are simply not prepared to negotiate. Many of the French brought up the war in Iraq, a wound between us that has not ceased to fester. They spoke of our shared involvement in Afghanistan and asked what it was that we really accomplished there. The current social conditions in Libya were mentioned. The media presented photos of Gaddifi’s dead body after allied airstrikes but little attention was given to human rights after, was it worth it?

There were comments however, made in both the US and in France, though represented by numbers half of those in objection, who made passionate statements in support. Their concerns come from a true sense of humanitarianism. “We must end this civil war” they said, “We must simply stop the suffering”. Those words, I must admit are the words that ring true in my heart. Those words are those that remind me that I am here today because allied soldiers liberated my Dutch father from a German work camp and because allied forces intervened in the Asian holocaust that occurred in the life of my Indonesian mother. Because of military intervention, I have the extravagant luxury of lying in my bedroom in the Missouri darkness of morning and counting my blessings as I begin my day.

I however, must balance that emotional truth with what is also logic. There is a sense of weariness in all of this. I don’t believe that the US has recovered its stamina or the strength that has been spent on the military activity of the last decade. The images of the young men and women who have returned from recent wars as amputees are still very fresh. The number of young veterans who are homeless after their service to our country is a staggering reality. The young men and women who have served and returned with PTSD and are now attempting to negotiate life in a barely recovering economy is an indication that here too, there is suffering. All of this and I haven’t even touched on the battle scars of the American economy.

In my lessons with my French learners I often compare the human rights issues of other countries to those that exist within our own communities. I ask them if we would intervene if we knew that the neighbor was beating his wife. Of course we all would, we would try to rescue her, offer her a safe place, give her some money to start over somewhere else, beat the crap out of the husband, we would put a stop to it. But this morning I have to question my own sense of righteousness. “What if we didn’t have the physical strength to fight that battle? What if our own families needed our attention and our resources? What would we do then?”

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