Aleppo: this is what war is like

Aleppo: this is what war is like December 20, 2016

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABombed_out_vehicles_Aleppo.jpg; By Voice of America News: Scott Bobb reports from Aleppo, Syria [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a post I’ve been sitting on for a while, as the situation in Aleppo develops and I try to figure out how to put my thoughts together.  But here it goes:

Is Aleppo a genocide?  No.  The government is not seeking to exterminate people based on their ethnicity.

In fact, near as I can tell, they’re not trying to exterminate people at all – their objective is not to kill the civilian population of eastern rebel-held Aleppo.  It’s to re-take the city of Aleppo.  What they’re doing is fighting a war.  And at the same time as they’re fighting for control of eastern Aleppo, rebel forces are attempting to seize various other government-controlled towns, though these battles are not as dramatic, and frankly I have no idea how the civilians are faring.

But I suspect that we in the United States have created a new image of what war means, and our mental image comes from the initial overrunning of Saddam’s forces in Iraq:  U.S. bombing campaigns with smart bombs eliminating military targets, and a ground campaign in which the opposing forces surrender.  Or maybe we imagine Paris in World War II, when first the French surrendered before the Germans got that far, so that the Nazis marched in triumphantly; then the Germans retreated from Paris rather than force the Allies to fight them among the boulevards.  Instead, the two armies fought each other on battlefields, for instance, in the Battle of the Bulge.

The reality is that war is brutal and that, Geneva convention or no, civilians suffer and civilians die.

Fallujah.

Grozny.

Warsaw.

Dresden.

Berlin.

Stalingrad and Leningrad.

Yes, I’m going back to World War II, since I’ve got a bit of a knowledge gap in-between.

But all the cries of “save Aleppo” leave me struggling to understand exactly how that might happen.

Syrian government forces and rebel forces are in the middle of a war.  Neither side is willing to retreat.  Each side is backed by outsiders.  And for all the talk of, well, talks, I don’t see anything from the reports I’ve read that either side is willing to agree to even modest concessions or compromises to end the war, much less the far greater surrender of a substantial power-sharing agreement.  And the situation in Aleppo demonstrates that in two ways:  first, the Syrian government’s determination to retake the city regardless of casualties, and, second, well, it would seem to me that the attacks could have ended long ago with the negotiated surrender of the city, but surrender simply wasn’t an option, only, when its fall became inevitable, an evacuation to other rebel-held areas.

A couple days ago, The Daily Beast published an article about the situation in Aleppo which quotes rebel forces:

TDB: “Do you expect all the remaining besieged neighborhoods will fall by tomorrow?”

AA: “No. Except over the body of every civilian. I won’t surrender my body, and my wife, and my daughter to the Assad regime without defending them… I hope that you’ll tell everyone what I’m saying.”

Why not surrender?  The rebels claimed that Syrians were summarily executing civilians, and those who lived were taken to concentration camps.  They further reported that 20 women committed suicide to avoid rape.

How much of this is propaganda?  How much is truth?  What is the true fate of civilians in recaptured areas?  I don’t know.  And that lack of knowledge is part of why I’ve sat on this post for a while.

So I just don’t see an answer here.  I don’t see a way that the West, the United States, can “do something” — other than after-the-fact aid to Syrians in refugee camps.  Can we really choose a side here?  After all, the rebels aren’t noble “good guys” either – part of the reason the cease-fire allowing them to retreat was delayed, was that they refused to allow a parallel cease fire in certain towns they’re bombarding, to allow the Syrian government to evacuate the wounded, and even after this was granted, reports claimed that they torched the evacuation buses.  And, now that the Russians have sided with Assad, for the U.S. to escalate our role would only bring us into a new Cold War-style proxy war.

About the best we can do, so far as I can tell, is revisit the start of the civil war and try to understand whether there was anything that the U.S. or the EU could have done before things got this far — and that only as a “lesson learned” for the next time a war threatens that there may be some means of stopping.

 

Image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABombed_out_vehicles_Aleppo.jpg; By Voice of America News: Scott Bobb reports from Aleppo, Syria [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  Note the photo dates from 2012, so at the start of the war.

 

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