He died hungry. He didn’t eat. At least he will have food in heaven.” The agony of a heart-broken mother in a faraway place called Eastern Ghouta in Syria. She cried. All she could do was cry. She had nothing to give him to eat. In a world that seems to throw away as much food as it consumes, that little boy, dwelling in a bombed-out village 20 minutes from Damascus, starved. Oh, but that’s Syria, you say: One more place in the Middle East where people are fighting and dying all the time; where bombs fall like rain from the sky and they may be running out of places to bury the dead. What does that have to do with us? We have enough on our hands here at home, you say.
And you aren’t wrong. We have much to worry about right here. But armed militias aren’t roaming our streets the way they do there. We don’t live in fear of rockets, napalm and chemical weapons being dropped on our homes. We aren’t cut off from food and medicine. We don’t have to dig through rubble to find our children or our mother or that neighbour down the street who couldn’t get around too well. But, yes, people are also dying in the US before their time. They die in schools, at movie theatres, at concerts and dances. They die on darkened streets and in alleys. They die at the hands of people not armed with grenades and suicide vests but with pistols, rifles, knives and opiates.
Yes, we have much to worry about. Next month’s rent. Medical results. Ridicule. Abandonment. Broken heart. An empty house, empty arms, a loveless life. The only place where there are no problems is the place where nobody lives, said one of my teachers. But I go back to that little boy in Ghouta. He didn’t do anything to anybody. Too innocent to hate, too small to hurt anyone, too weak to live. “He died hungry,” his mother wept.
She said those words in a country where the US has dumped more than $7.7 billion in humanitarian aid and hundreds of millions in direct aid to the Syrian opposition. Whether the mother knows it or not, today she shares her country with 2,000 US troops. Therefore, what happens to her and her massacred town of Eastern Ghouta, and the son she buried, does have a little something to do with us.
Increasingly in conflict
Washington demanded that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad relinquish power. Washington, under President Barack Obama, put CIA forces on the ground in 2013 to train moderate Syrian rebels opposed to Al Assad, only to have them pulled out — to the delight of a demanding Russia — by an accommodating President Donald Trump. The programme under Obama was widely derided as ineffective, but no one wanted it ended more than Russian President Vladimir Putin. US officials recently confirmed that they plan to continue to hold on to about 28 per cent of Syrian territory, in partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. “But those plans are increasingly in conflict with the other major international players in the war-torn country,” wrote Jonathan Spyer in Foreign Policy magazine. The carnage goes on.
It’s no better for the US in Afghanistan, where it has been engaged in nearly 17 years of war costing up to $1 trillion, and what do we have to show for it? So when stories of deadly attacks in some far-flung corners of the Middle East manage to get squeezed into the 24-hour news cycle, don’t change the channel. Count on it: Americans are not bystanders. Some of the rubble is ours. Just as, on the basis of our human existence, that little boy was ours.
“At least he will have food in heaven.” Because his life was made nothing but hell on earth.
— Washington Post
Colbert I. King is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist.