It’s the weekend once more and we all know what that means. Five entire days of having your already miserable soul trampled under the steel toe capped boots of customer dissatisfaction and wildly unrealistic performance targets are at an end, giving way to a two day lull which, while promising much at its opening, will likely descend into 48 hours spent entirely in bed binge watching old episodes of Happy Days.
Or at least, that was my expectation. Because instead of the wholesome antics of Potsie Webber and Ralph Malph opening up my Saturday, I was instead greeted with this:
Oh shit. That doesn’t sound good. This is even more depressing than the episode where Fonzie went blind and, for those who possess a memory that spans beyond the last decade, there’s also a familiar sense of dread lingering in the air.
Ah, war. Now there’s a dose of nostalgia that nobody is happy to see – save perhaps for Robert DuVall’s surfing CO from Apocalypse Now. To go along with all the death, destruction and diplomatic unrest that is par for the course when it comes to such shenanigans, there’s also the inevitable divide of public opinion. There’s those who, being well aware that we have a very capable military at our disposal, consider it our duty to intervene when a crazed fascist in a far away land sees fit to dispassionately kill scores of his own citizens in the most inhumane way imaginable – they themselves doing little more than desperately trying to survive with a war zone right outside their door. On the other side of the fence there’s those of a more pacifistic disposition, steadfast in their belief that further bloodshed can never be the antidote to a violent conflict – rather hoping that a pushing a diplomatic solution can finally bring about peace after decades of instability and brutality. The anti-war crowd also find their ranks significantly bolstered by a third demographic, people that feel we should stay the fuck out of squabbles halfway across the world – instead keeping our heads down and negating the risk of having ourselves dragged into a fight we could easily stay out of. After all, it didn’t work out so well last time, did it?
So where do I, a perpetually befuddled burn out, stand on all of this? Do I think military intervention is the way to go? Or would I rather we push for a peaceful solution, sending Assad all the fruit hampers our budget will allow in the hope he can eventually be brought to the table for productive talks?
Well, in actuality it’s not so much about where I stand but rather where I sit – and that’s firmly upon the fence, watching the debate unfold with increasing unease as carbuncles begin to form upon my rapidly deteriorating posterior region.
Don’t take this as ambivalence on my part however. My staunch entrenchment to the middle ground doesn’t stem from any sense of disinterest, rather a weary acknowledgement that I just don’t fucking know. As with most divisive issues, there’s sound arguments on both sides though, sticking to form, the mutual recognition that all participants have somewhat of a point becomes lost amongst the tribalistic bickering. In what has sadly become true of most 21st century disagreements, it becomes less about the moral responsibilities and implications of the matter than a frantic bid to discredit the opposition – the distant horror all the while continuing unhindered.
So what to do? Well, as a layman in both global politics and military strategy who isn’t sufficiently decisive to throw his weight behind either cause, all I can really do is to take stock of everything (in as objective a fashion as my inherently biased mind can allow) and attempt to make sense of it.
So let’s try that, shall we?
Our first stop is at the door of those opposed to military intervention and the thoughts of arguably their de facto spokesman, Jeremy Corbyn – a man who achieved such idealistic prominence by way of routinely voting against every proposed military solution he came across during his 35 years in Parliament. Irrespective of whether you consider yourself part of his congregation, it’s rather difficult to argue against his dedication to peaceful resolutions and his portrayal as a dangerous, terrorist supporting communist is demonstrably ludicrous – but what of the validity of his counsel?
The main thrust of his contention with tactical strikes is what they will leave in their wake. Syrian refugees scrambling upon our shores are often noted by the mainstream media but considerably less focus is afforded to what they’re actually running from – quite possibly because it makes them much harder to demonise. Take a moment to look outside your window right now. See any buildings burning to the ground? Any dead bodies lingering awkwardly around the outskirts or your vision? Is your daily soundtrack punctuated by agonised screams and hails of gunfire? No? Then you’re lucky – very lucky. But if you were to be in such a position then chances are more missiles arriving on the scene courtesy of a distant third party wouldn’t be atop your wish list. Granted, the targets are described as military installations and chemical weapons plants but, as footage has shown, civilisation is never too far away.
Humanitarian concerns aren’t the only argument present at the table either – some concerns rest much closer to home. Assad may be a despot with an unsettling lack of regard for the value of human life but, somehow, he’s managed to obtain himself a few allies – one of which being the seemingly perennial menace that is Vladimir Putin.
It’s arguable that we’re already embroiled amidst the opening days of a second Cold War, many fearing that one too many rushes of blood to the head could lead to this one heating up pretty quickly. Prior to the strikes, Russia had already stated their intent to both intercept any missiles that dared cross into Syria – along with a promise to retaliate against participating nations in kind. As to whether this is just bullish posturing or a genuine threat often depends on your own perspective but, with the perceived bluff having now been called, we’re all set to find out for sure – and there’s a dangerously fine line between petty bickering and walloping someone in the the face.
With more than a slight nod towards Corbyn’s historical opposition to war, the ‘take heed of the mistakes of the past’ argument also comes into play. His opposition to action in Iraq and Afghanistan wasn’t exactly popular at the time but has since been vindicated by hindsight and, given how blundering fists first into the fray proved a colossal mistake last time, Theresa May’s decision to disregard Jeremy’s calls for further investigation might not have an entirely happy ending.
So if we don’t strike against Assad and his monstrous regime, what do we do? Well, diplomatic sanctions and a vigorous attempt at a peaceful solution of course. Such avenues have had their success in the past in remedying conflicts of varying size but such proposals aren’t without legitimate concerns. After all, we’re dealing with a tyrant who thinks nothing of indiscriminately gassing his own nation’s children – it might take more than a few harsh words and shoving a flower down the barrel of a gun to talk him down.
Speaking after Theresa May and her cabinet took their decision to take part in military action (completely without the approval of Parliament I might add), it’s fair to say that the debate on what we as a nation should do has ended before it really began – but did we make the right choice?
If you find yourself in the camp favouring giving that Assad character what for, chances are that the parliamentary decision to reject proposals for missile strikes on Syrian targets back in 2013 plays heavily on your mind. We stood idly by back then in the hopes that a solution not involving blowing shit up would arise only to find ourselves disappointed five years later. Nothing unveils the truth quite like the passage of time and Assad remaining at large to this day leads to a rather unsettling quandary. As to whether military action back then would have been the right thing to do is something that will remain unknown, but those that saw their wish denied back in 2013 are getting understandably antsy. For what they ultimately see in Assad is a vicious bully acting without restraint – and bullies need to be stood up to.
It may be an unpleasant and morally dubious path to take, even for those who ultimately are in favour, but there’s certainly an argument that the ends will justify the means – however brutal the repercussions may be. While the protests and alternatives brought forth by those in opposition may well be idealistically sound, many consider them at odds with the harsh realities of our increasingly dysfunctional world. Pacifists are quick to remind us that love is a universal language, but the sad truth is that violence also falls into such a category – and many suspect that violence is perhaps the only language Assad and his ilk understand.
Whichever way you look at it, neither side of the fence is especially comfortable. Nor is, for that matter, the line of cautious neutrality that I’m attempting to straddle. It’s a miserable situation with a sense of futility accompanying our every move. Whatever we do innocent lives are set to be extinguished and it’s those lives that should be ultimately at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now – regardless of your political leanings. If you think this shit is nasty to read about, just try living it. Because they do. Every single day.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to demonise these people, blaming them for our woes while turning a blind eye to theirs but remember – going home isn’t especially easy when you don’t have a home to go back to.Follow @grahamlithgow