To state it concisely, Bashar al Assad is systematically exterminating his own people. He has violated nearly every single right that is guaranteed to everyone on Earth. His soldiers have shot at peaceful protesters demanding freedom, they have gang raped young boys contrary to the anti homosexual laws in Syria, and they have even used children as young as eight years old as human shields. The Syrian Civil War has lasted over 2 years and there is currently no end in sight. The UN estimates that over 70,000 people have been killed and that approximately a million refugees have fled to other countries. The Syrian Civil War has gone on for long enough and the United States of America cannot stand for the execution of an entire people by their own government. America has to continue to stand up for the right for citizens to be heard by their government. Our nation’s leaders need to implement the values that we hold closest to our hearts, in Syria. These values include the right to a transparent government constructed through a democratic process, and the rights guaranteed to us in our first amendment that allow a government to flourish. We do not stand for dictators in any way, shape or form. We did not support a Führer in Germany or a military dictatorship in Japan, and we will certainly not support the Ba’ath party in Syria.
In April 2011, protests erupted across Syria. These protests were part of a wider movement called The Arab Spring. The Arab Spring was a series of pro-democracy protests in several Middle Eastern nations that resulted in tremendous changes in government. When protests started in Syria, soldiers from the Syrian army were forced to shoot at protesters. In a report from the UN that was released in November 2011, a defector from the Syrian army described how he was ordered to fire at peaceful protestors carrying olive branches. His group indiscriminately mowed down the people in the crowd including children. Other defectors saw their fellow soldiers get executed. They had been ordered to fire directly into crowds of civilians but instead, they fired into the air to disperse them. Security forces in the row behind them executed the non-compliant soldiers in the first row for not following orders. The actions ordered by Syria’s military leadership are in direct violation of Article 21 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 21 states that “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized.” Syria ratified that treaty which makes it obligated to abide by it. Even the Syrian constitution allows for peaceful assembly. However, Syria had been in a state of Emergency for over forty years which led to a suspension of most rights guaranteed by the Syrian constitution.
In the United States we are used to our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. Our first amendment allows for the American people to speak their mind and to be heard by the government. In Syria, things are a lot different. According to the UN report, “Decades of tight control of freedom of expression, as well as surveillance and persecution of opponents, have severely limited political life and the constitution of an autonomous civil society.” The Assad regime has repeatedly infringed on the universal right of freedom of expression that the Syrian people have. People have been arbitrarily detained, tortured, beaten and killed for exercising their god given rights. Obviously this is wrong and it is in violation of Article 9 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” By arbitrarily detaining people for expressing their opinions, the Assad regime has effectively controlled speech in Syria for the past few decades. Without the ability to speak out, it is impossible to form a fair government. The people cannot hold their leaders accountable for their actions because they are unable to vote them out. If they try to install new leadership or even show interest in reform, they disappear. The Arab Spring was what the Syrian people were waiting for; a chance to peacefully show the government that they wanted reform. Instead of reform, the people of Syria got bullets to the head from snipers, shrapnel from the rockets fired into civilian neighborhood and even according to some new reports, a dose of sarin gas from chemical weapons.
The United States of America is the defender of some of the most important principles in the world. These principles include the right to free speech and assembly, and the right to a democratically elected government. These rights are the most important ones that humans have because without them, a government can do whatever it wants. By having the freedom of expression, people can not only say what they think their government should do, they can also take to the streets and rally support for their ideas. Since a government’s function is to protect the rights of its people, if it is immoral it can completely ignore the needs of its population. The people give a government its legitimacy, but when it begins to abuse its power, the people can take it away. That is the strength of democracy and that is why it is guaranteed in Article 21 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The problem with Syria is that the government amassed so much power that it became incredibly hard to attempt to oust it. There was heavy infrastructure in place to deny the people their freedom of speech which included secret police networks. Lacking the freedom to speak their minds, the people were unable to elect the leaders that they wanted for more than 40 years. When they tried to ask the government for reform they were slaughtered. As the protector of the free world, the US has to intervene in Syria to ensure the implementation of basic human rights.
Help from a more powerful country in order to secure freedom is a pattern that has been repeated in history time and time again. When the American colonists under British rule demanded independence they were met with ships full of redcoats to deny them representation in government. In the bloody war that ensued, the colonists won not only because of their innovative and adaptive battlefield strategy but also because of support from the professionally trained French forces. The US returned the favor in 1944 when it began to liberate France from Nazi rule. The people if France would be speaking German if America did not free them. This type of intervention from a larger power is exactly what needs to happen in Syria. Syria is too important to degrade into a failed state like Somalia or stay under the rule of the oppressive Assad regime. Government forces have become a lot more depraved in recent weeks. According to CNN, US intelligence officials believe that sarin gas has been used in Syria. This is an obvious violation of international law. Even though Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, it must respect it. The use of chemical weapons is the very obvious red line that President Obama has set for Syria. The only problem is that when the Assad government crossed it, the Obama administration barely acknowledged it.
Congress and the Obama Administration need to offer lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels. The country is locked in a bloody stalemate which foreign intervention could easily break. Currently, the government has only sent over food and medicine. Also, Obama recently approved a new aid package that included military equipment such as body armor and night-vision goggles. That is not nearly enough aid for the Syrian rebels. The Syrian rebels need weapons. Congress needs to approve an aid package for Syria that includes lethal aid. While it would be extremely imprudent to put boots on the ground in Syria, limited military involvement would definitely help the Free Syrian Army get rid of Assad. America cannot become involved with another prolonged ground war in the Middle East so this assistance should take the form of air support and possibly even bombardments from naval assets in the region. Fighter jets could strike locations that are strategically important for Assad’s forces and provide reconnaissance for the rebels. This is the strategy that worked well in Libya 2 years ago. The agreement of America’s allies will be vital in Syria. The US also has to get NATO support in declaring a no fly zone over Syria. There are Patriot missile batteries in Turkey but those are for defensive purposes only. The only way to get around that is if there is overwhelming NATO support to use them. The Israelis have begun to target shipments of weapons and other military threats in Syria. Their motivation is self-preservation since they do not want Hezbollah getting hold of powerful weapons, but Israel would gladly work with the US to oust Assad. Getting rid of the Assad regime in Syria will be the biggest blow to Iran in decades. It also means the end of the rule of a vicious dictator with a total disregard for what we view as the most important principles that we stand for in America.
Assad has to go. He is one step short of committing genocide. Amazingly, for years the Ba’ath party has been tolerated by America, but that has to stop. Assad and his Orwellian security forces have violated the most sacred rights that people have. They have laughed at important human rights treaties and openly defied them. The sounds of the pleas of their own people were drowned out in the crack of sniper rifles and the whistling of rockets tipped with chemical warheads. They have angered the rest of the world by limiting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly to deny the Syrian people the right to choose their own leaders. The Assad regime has put a lot of thought into its inhumane treatment of the Syrian people, but what it has not thought of is America’s response to such a gross violation of human rights. We stand by our most important principles even if that means taking military action to defend them. We hold the freedom of expression as our most sacred principle and also as a responsibility. It is our responsibility to ensure that that right is available everywhere on earth because we know that where it is available there is democracy. Where there is democracy there is unabridged political freedom that guarantees a high quality of life. Therefore, since freedom of expression ensures democracy, it is our most important principle to defend. It is a principle that we will defend all around the world until we do not have the power to defend it anymore. That is what Bashar al-Assad does not understand and that is why he has to relinquish control of Syria. The Assad regime is clearly playing with fire. By depriving the Syrian people of their rights for years, President Assad has created an environment that is dangerous for him to live in. Assad and his inner circle face assassination or trial at The Hague. One of those events will happen because of America’s unwavering support of its core values. The only thing to wonder about is when its leaders will allow it to happen.
Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Rep. United Nations General Assembly, 23 Nov. 2011. Web. 13 Apr. 2013.
Aarthun, Sarah, Barbara Starr, Chris Lawrence, and Elise Labott. “Sarin in Syria: What’s the United States’ next Move?” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 05 May 2013.
“Syrian Civil War.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Apr. 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2013.
The United Nations. The United Nations INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS. United Nations Gopher, 25 Jan. 1997. Web. 5 May 2013.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, Declaration of Human Rights, Human Rights Declaration, Human Rights Charter, The Un and Human Rights.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2013.
As a student of United States history this year, I’ve gained an increased understanding of the significance of our nation’s history in relation to my own life. Learning about each event that has shaped my country has given me significant insight into the importance historical moments have; each turning point has molded society into what I now call “America”. But I’ve come to realize that not everyone feels the same way I do about the circumstances that have caused our country to become the great nation it is today. Historian David McCullough once fearfully stated in a 60 Minutes interview that, “We are raising children in America today who are by and large historically illiterate.” Growing up in Mamaroneck surrounded by many students that are somehow just as passionate about New Deal reforms and Andrew Jackson’s economic policies as I am, I originally found this statement hard to believe. But upon further examination, I feel that I am definitely living in a generation that is perhaps not “historically illiterate”, as McCullough claims, but “historically unaware”. People simply need to learn why history is important before they can find value in it. It’s true: many of my peers may not be initially enthralled by the concept of coming to see a memorial, regardless of how geographically close to them it is or how much it connects to their lives in a town rich with history. But a good number of those uncaring individuals honestly just don’t understand the true significance of a memorial, just as many don’t grasp why history itself is so important. What we must focus on as a society is stressing the importance of both memorials and the events being memorialized in order to create a more educated and historically aware group of young adults, thus creating an educated populous and an able-minded generation of future leaders.
Writer and philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” History is cyclical; anything I am experiencing now, my grandparents and great grandparents lived through it at some point in their lives. Economic recessions, debates over immigration regulations, the fight for the expansion of women’s rights – each large event in my lifetime can ultimately be traced back to something that has already happened in American history. This is why grasping and understanding historical concepts is so important. If we do not educate ourselves about the events that have happened in the past, how can we expect to make informed decisions on resolutions to problems we face in the future? If today’s U.S. leaders didn’t examine the ways former American leaders dealt with economic recessions, international conflicts, and social battles, how could they hope to effectively fight ones we face in America today? It simply does not make sense to ignore what’s happened in history so far when we attempt to rectify conflicts in the present and the future, and memorials allow us to easily remember the paths our predecessors have taken. Memorials take these historical turning points and concretely sanctify them. The names on the Kemper Memorial, for example, allow us to remember World War II as something palpable. Memorializing an event that we may have otherwise only thought about briefly in passing allows us to easily remember its colossal significance and keep its spirit alive not only on holidays, but also in our daily lives.
Understanding historical events is significant even just for the purpose of storytelling. There are some things in history, such as the Revolutionary War, the Vietnam protests, and the Great Depression, that we should just know simply to know, and to pass along to future generations. If your parents or grandparents have ever told you an anecdote from their own lives about something you’ve learned about in history class, then you know how amazing it is to hear a personal account of an enormously life-changing event. We don’t want to lose that incredible part of the American identity. We’ve always been a nation of storytellers and entertainers; it is part of what makes us such a novel group of individuals. If we stop taking note of historical events as we live them, this amazing part of American culture will be lost, and an important link binding each of us to our nation will be broken.
Memorials are as vital to the intellectual integrity of our society today as history lessons are. They serve as physical manifestations of the great events we learn about in history classes. They bring to life concepts and events that we sometimes cannot even fathom in ways that are incredibly moving; from the haunting empty chairs of the Oklahoma City Memorial, to the fatigued statues of the Korean War Memorial, to the scrolling names engraved on the Kemper Memorial, memorials allows history to come to life before our eyes. The fact that this vivid preservation of historical events is so underappreciated is utterly dumbfounding. How can we, as a society, actively avoid taking interest in the memorialization of events that have shaped our nation? The answer is, quite simply, that we are living in an age of increased self-awareness at the expense of world-awareness; the things most of us notice on a day-to-day basis are largely things of great personal significance. Other things we tend to ignore. Because of this, we must work to better educate ourselves about how memorials directly influence us. Of course, memorials take events in American history and celebrate them, but to someone lacking a deep interest in history, that reverence can have little appeal. Memorials possess something very personal, as well, and it’s something that is rarely touched on when people discuss them. The Kemper Memorial doesn’t commemorate just any World War II soldiers; it brings special attention to those who went to Mamaroneck High School. The soldiers who fought and died were from our town. They patronized many of the same stores, they walked a lot of the same halls, and they lived in a few of the same houses that we do. The Kemper Memorial gives us, as Larchmont/Mamaroneck citizens, a special connection to our town’s history. It allows us an opportunity to bridge any gap we may feel between ourselves and the history of our nation simply by spending a few minutes reading the names of the fallen soldiers with whom we share so much. By honoring the lives of such great Americans, the Kemper Memorial provides an accessible community outlet that gives us the opportunity to reach back to our roots. The Kemper Memorial, and those like it, remind us of the things that are truly significant: our families, our nation, and our history.
The idea that history is unimportant because it is “over already”, or that memorials aren’t important because they commemorate supposedly outdated events is ludicrous. History will always remain alive, because it is always being created. Memorials take events and people that we all need to know about and glorify them, allowing us to remember and cherish their importance. My generation is not a lost cause. We still have a chance to become “historically aware” and “historically literate”. And I believe a historically educated generation is definitely something worth fighting for.