The Battle for Aleppo in Syria has finally come to a close after over four years of brutal combat. Aleppo has come close to falling before, only to be miraculously saved, but this is truly final. The last rebels have been evacuated from the city, and regime forces are now in full control of Aleppo. This does not mean the end of the Syrian Civil War by any means. The rebels still control significant territory, and the regime’s fundamental weakness to stand on its own means the war will continue. As long as Assad remains hated and reviled in Syria, the war will continue. As long as Russia and Iran prop up the corpse that is the regime, the war will continue. As long as the rest of the world watches, unwillingly to act, the war will continue.
As a citizen of a proud, freedom-loving nation myself, it is this last point that really upsets me. Much of the Western news media has recently been filled with articles discussing the feelings of powerlessness in the West. But we are not powerless, far from it. In early 1942, when the United States had just entered World War Two, General George C. Marshall gave a speech in which he stated that:
We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other
General George C. Marshall
Since then, the United States of America has assembled the most capable and destructive military machine ever devised by man. So we have thus achieved one objective. But what of the other? To what ends have we put our awesome might? Has it been to support freedom, unconditionally, whenever it dare show its face? Has it been to answer the call of liberty, whenever she sings? Has it been to deliver the oppressed from tyranny and chains? Sadly it has not. Our arms have found themselves in the hands of dictators and tyrants in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. Now, to be fair, they have also been used to great effect in conflicts such as that of the former Yugoslavia to put an end to terrible deeds. But more often, we care more for the status quo than we do for progress. We prefer dealing with regimes and governments than with people and individuals. Order and stability are favored over liberty.
The irony is that the Western cultural tradition has few idols more cherished then that of the freedom fighter, the rebel with a cause, the David staring down the Goliath. The list of such works goes on and on: from Robin Hood to Les Misérables to The Lord of the Rings to even Star Wars. We are fascinated with the character of the noble rebel, weak and powerless, fighting against impossible odds for what is right. One of my absolute favorite books is The Lord of the Rings, and one of my favorite scenes occurs quite early. Frodo, a diminutive creature, small but noble at heart, carries with him a great Ring that is the source of power for the Dark Lord, Tyrant of that world. He is being hunted by wraiths; figures of darkness and shadow, tall and terrible to behold, and cloaked in malice. They catch Frodo, but he does not run. He turns and faces his enemy, and draws his sword; which is to the wraiths little more than a carving knife. This act of defiant courage, in the face of terror incarnate, has always moved me. And this very week, comes a new film being released in the United States: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Yet another film, doubtless inspiring, about a band of desperate rebels fighting against overwhelming force to preserve their freedom and liberty.
But when we are faced with this story in the real world, we turn our heads. The Arab Spring, the tumultuous cry of a people finding their voice and shouting for all to hear: “Enough!”, received from the West little but some murmured words of encouragement. The brutal counter-strike by the forces of tyranny has further been met with tacit approval and acceptance. As we sit in our homes, reading and watching romantic tales of heroism and wondering why people in the real world are not so good and courageous as Frodo, the real heroes are being crushed. The Frodos, and Davids, and Luke Skywalkers of this world are the dying in Syria, the jailed activists of the Arab Spring, and the disappeared lawyers and journalists of China. These are not fictional characters. These are real people, facing down real oppression. The United States is the most wealthy and powerful society in human history. At what point do we stop saying that we are powerless, and admit that we are afraid? No amount of raw strength can make up for a lack of courage, and if we feel powerless now, in all our splendor and might, it is because we are cowards.