Musings on the Crumbling of Civilization & Morality
How three TV shows illustrate critical dynamics of the Syrian Civil War and how two books show us why we need to care
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse October 12, 2015
al-Furqan Media/Islamic State
AMMAN — There are some who would argue here in America and in other places that the greatest calamity of our time*—the metastacizing vortex of the Syrian Civil War and all its accompanying metastacizing side effects—is not “our” problem and does not really affect “us.” To them I would say, on several important levels, that they could not be more wrong.
Apart from the appalling destruction of human lives and cultural heritageon top of mass displacement contributing to make current population of globally displaced reach a scale not seen since WWII, and perhaps, even, taking all those into account, the most terrifying thing about this sad, sorry, tragedy is how absolutely quickly and nearly completely an entire (relatively) modern state and society has collapsed into pre-Taliban Afghanistan and Congolese-like (dare I say even Dark Age-like?) near-total anarchy and chaos of the most virulent and violent kind. Even in the worst days of the U.S. occupation in Iraq in 2006, when the U.S. barely managed to keep a lid on a semblance of order and Iraq teetered on the edge of chaos and civil war, the lid may have been popping and jumping, but it never flew completely off and out of sight; and after those dark days, the U.S. began to greatly turn things around. Well, with Syria, today, the lid has been blown off and it has been long-gone for some time now, and this is beyond debate. It happened so quickly that the world has been caught flat-footed and ill-prepared, content to play with Syria as chess game board and making things worse not only for Syrians but for the entire global community at worst and a few doing something to try to help but doing far too little, too late at best. In the middle, most nations do nothing.
Yet we all need to be concerned about how quickly a sophisticated, fairly modern, secular-oriented state like Syria devolved into the worst of religious extremist fanaticism and violent, murderous cruelty, of rampant anarchy and callous calculated mass-murder. Any country can produce a mass-murder or a tyrant, a Hitler if you will. And it should be remembered that before and during the Nazi era, Germany represented the peak of civilization, culture, learning, science, etc. That did not stop it from unleashing the greatest orgy of bloodletting in the history of the world for such a short period of time from carrying out and engaging in the most systematic and organized genocide in world history; only the Mongols may be comparable. No matter how great or powerful or advanced our culture may be, we must all recognize we may all, as nations, possibly produce a Hitler. Or, in this case, a Bashar al-Assad (to be fair not nearly as rotten an apple as Hitler). But it is easy to place all the blame on a leader, and harder (but more important) to confront the most troubling traits of an entire society; thus, the more important lesson here is that we may each, as a society, become Nazi Germany, or, in this case, Syria (again, not equating the two here, just making a point).
In 2015, Nazi Germany is something of a fading memory, a near-mythical tale few can say they experienced or observed contemporarily, whether up close or from afar. Syria is the greatest calamity to unfold in our current era,*and even in just the few years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the peak of violence there, the tremendous growth of immediate and stream-of-consciousness social media, mobile technology, broadband internet access, and interconnectedness means that the average citizen in the world, if they choose, can experience the conflict in Syria today in an up-close and personal way as no one in the world not directly in or near a conflict could have ever experienced conflict in the past. It is therefore an unprecedented teachable moment on several levels.
Syria is like a Gollum to our Frodo for all you Lord of the Rings fans. Gollum had the One Ring for 500 years and, as the prologue states, “it poisoned his mind” (an understatement). At first glance, Gollum looks utterly alien, evil, contemptible, deserving of being struck down, cast off, or forgotten. But as Gandalf explains and Frodo comes to learn, Gollum was a distorted mirror image of Frodo himself and of Hobbits general, as he was once a Hobbit named Sméagol. Especially after Frodo has been the bearer of the Ring for some time, he comes to understand the burden the Ring had been for Sméagol over the half-millennium it had taken a hold of him and turned him into Gollum; Frodo, begins to suffer as a Ring-bearer just as Gollum has, and even begins to speak and act more like Gollum as his quest goes on. In subtle ways in the books, Frodo begins to root for Gollum, hoping to redeem him back to Sméagol, because Gollum’s ability to be redeemed and overcome the evil of the One Ring is a reflection of Frodo’s own ability to do the same. In the movies, this is made more explicit with a sharp exchange between Sam and Frodo about the Ring and Gollum, in which Frodo snaps at Sam “You have no idea what it did to him, what it’s still doing to him. I want to help him Sam…Because I have to believe he can come back.” For us, we have to believe Syria and Syrians are redeemable and worth fighting for, because any nation is, frighteningly, capable of a similar descent; whether we like it or not, Syria is a distorted reflection of our own nations.
Perhaps you scoff at such a notion. “Our people, our culture, our nation, our system, our values, are better than them and theirs,” you say. “It couldn’t happen here.” Well, even in American history, there are frightening examples of similar breakdowns of society into murderous anarchy. During the Civil War, large portions of the South and Border States were engulfed in bloody, chaotic, anarchic, vengeful violence, where government authority evaporated and life was a series of bloody confrontations between deserting troops, roving guerilla bands, civilians divided over their loyalty to the Union, slaves and ex-slaves, and rebels who fought against the Confederate government; untold thousands were killed in remote parts with no witnesses to record the events; nobody and no one was safe from robbery, banditry, rape, and murder. From the Civil War through the 1960s, America experienced numerous race and labor riots, some of which were quelled with military force. The “Wild West” was somewhat anarchic for decades and was only stabilized with a heavy price in blood. In more recent living memory, riots in Los Angeles in 1992 were the largest in America in decades; much more recently, Hurricane Katrina brought one of the great American cities to its knees as New Orleans became a hotbed of death, violence, anarchy, looting, crime, and public mismanagement. And just last summer, Ferguson, Missouri, saw the worst riots in America since the aforementioned L.A. riots. Many white Americans would dismiss in a racist way the last few examples as black people just being black people; certainly white America would not behave in such a way today, they think.
Wrong. At most, our culture, system, values, etc. buy us time, certainly less than we would like to believe and certainly not enough to prevent a societal collapse under the most severely pressing circumstances.
Three television shows illustrate this vividly, each presenting a vision of America (or at least a slice of America) coming apart and being reduced to primal anarchy: Fear the Walking Dead, The Walking Dead, and HBO’s The Leftovers. (BEWARE SPOILERS, if you have seen one show but no other, just skip the relevant section; for those willing to have a bit of the story ruined but not the major parts, I have divided the spoilers into stages).
Fear the Walking Dead (SPOILERS)
Fear the Walking Dead is AMC’s new prequel of sorts for its megahit The Walking Dead. In The Walking Dead, the main character wakes up in a hospital weeks after the zombie apocalypse has begun. In contrast its mother show, Fear the Walking Dead starts us right in the middle of normal life in Los Angeles, before the outbreak and before society collapses. In just six episodes, we see a fairly normal group of people experience an utter breakdown of pretty much everything. It starts with isolated cases, and the riotous L.A. denizens are apt to see police brutality against regular citizens rather than law enforcement trying to contain a zombie outbreak: they riot en masse and draw the authorities’ attention from dealing with what they don’t yet know is a zombie outbreak. Such conditions only the enable the infection so spread even more in the ensuing chaos. Police and medical workers, on the front lines of dealing with people who are dead and then almost immediately “turn” into zombie, become particularly susceptible. Police stations, we must assume, and hospitals, we see, are turned into new front lines against the zombie infection. Many people try to leave town as disorder spreads, but the congested L.A. traffic only makes them sitting targets for zombies, as whole highways filled with abandoned cars imply in later scenes. The power stops working.
Then the military shows up an is able to secure a small neighborhood here and there (lucky for the main characters), but most of the city of L.A. is abandoned; whole neighborhoods burn down, skyscrapers smolder, the streets and houses are empty and deserted save for small pockets, the lights are off. The military is there, ostensibly to protect the few secure zones they are able to create, but no one is there to protect the people from the abuses of a military that is almost as freaked out as the civilians. Outside of the protected pockets, there are signs that point to the military simply killing civilians left behind, possibly out of worries about infection. The sick and non-cooperative are forcefully taken away from their families and moved to detention centers. At this point, there is no law, only a new order coming at the expense of all freedom and backed by the butt of a rife.
(BIG SPOILERS AHEAD). One of the characters in the show, we learn, was a security official and a torturer for the regime in El Salvador. He quickly feels the need to use his skills from the past, and, because it may benefit her son who has been detained, a single mother who is one of the main characters spend little more than a few seconds with her qualms and quickly accepts the use of torture with no apparent sense of guilt or shame and with no look back, unlike her boyfriend. Yet in the final episode, the boyfriend, composed until this point, comes undone and nearly beats to death the same man whose torture he was against, leaving him in a state where he may well die. The same man takes it upon himself, out of necessity, to shoot his ex-wife in the head with her full consent because she has been bitten by a zombie and knows that she will soon become one. The detained son escapes with a new friend but they decide to do nothing to help anyone else to limit their own risk; the main characters, when they decide to leave town just before the military arrives, decline to warn their neighbors of the impending disaster (not many people know what’s going on at that point); when they figure out that the military is weak and will soon abandon them completely, they decline to warn their neighbors yet again. It is likely that they have known these people for some time, but in a matter of days, those bonds come to mean nothing. Society is no more. The main characters even unleash a zombie horde on the detention camp entrance to serve as a distraction so they can rescue their own loved ones, totally willing to place all the guards and all the civilian detainees at risk.
(Exiting major spoilers) Throughout the entire show the authorities are more of less clueless, one or more steps behind and impending disaster they are ill-prepared or incapable of handling, and rather than coming together, people become more selfish and tribal, less concerned about helping others, more willing to place others at risk or leave them vulnerable, with naked self-interest dominating. The government, at least where we see it, completely abandons people and evaporates. All of downtown L.A. is a virtually empty ruin, a wasteland, by the last episode. The collapse of an entire city, one of the world’s largest, happens in a matter of days, as does the collapse of the moral fabric of society. Survival is the new central value, and sacrificing even longtime neighbors for self-preservation becomes the norm.
The Walking Dead (SPOILERS through season five)
The Walking Dead, the sixth season of which is just premiered, begins way past the initial devolution of its sister series, and takes us to some truly terrifying depths of cruelty and horror that unfortunately mirror all too much our own reality of anarchic war zones. By the time the show starts, society and government are already long gone. Most people are dead or are, literally, walking dead (zombies), and most survivors are now in small nomadic gangs whose numbers are constantly being whittled down not just by zombies, but by the aggressions and machinations of other bands of survivors. The words of the ancient Greek historian Thucydides come to mind here: “…right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” And the weak sure do suffer, killed off by either zombies or stronger groups of survivors. Killing, pillaging, even rape (though this is more implied) seem commonplace, as the most cruel and brutal seem to survive at the expense of others; the more brutal, in fact, the better. Small communities seem to survive or be established here and there, but are run by the most brutal regimes as the sadistic Governor’s Woodbury, the deceptive, cannibalistic Terminus, and the Atlanta hospital all show us. The three communities exemplify murderous tyranny, ruthless deception, and the strong taking advantage of the weak, respectively. In the case of Terminus—without a doubt the most brutal of the three—we learn that prior to becoming what they became, they themselves suffered unspeakable horrors at the hands of others. As Israeli historian Benny Morris in his landmark history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict quotes W. H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939” in the book’s preface: “I and the public know/ What all schoolchildren learn,/ That to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return.”
A dominant theme quickly emerges: the real challenge is not overcoming the zombies, but fellow human beings.
In general, good men who try to show mercy often die because of it. Major characters die saving other people, and eventually some of these other people die too, showing a heartbreaking waste of life and that even the bravest sacrifices often turn out to be in vain. The show’s main character—and a major hero—ends up favoring execution as his preferred method for dealing with enemies as the seasons move forward, with him internalizing some very harsh lessons form earlier. Even young characters (and I mean young) exhibit sadistic and murderous tendencies, with one little girl even being put down like an animal after she kills an even younger little girl, an irredeemable product of her environment. “Good” guys sometimes kill first, ask questions later (or don’t ask), and the ability to resist having the environment completely dehumanize you is a constant theme and challenge of later seasons. Small acts of kindness and mercy are often rewarded only with death and despair. Sometimes the best mercy is killing someone to avoid a more painful death. Friends kill friends, lovers kill lovers, children kill parents, often out of kindness. Some of the drama comes as you really wonder whether some characters have lost their humanity, and if or how they can regain some shred of it.
(BIGGER SPOILERS COMING) In the fifth season, the band of survivors we’ve been following have absorbed some new people into their group over the seasons, and come across Alexandria, Virginia, a Washington, DC, suburb that was able to seal much of itself off from the horrors of the outside. Yet in being sealed off and incredibly fortunate, they are incredibly weak and ill prepared. We see how our main hero and character—truly a good man who has just been molded and shaped by his circumstances—becomes a little drunk on the power he realizes that his much stronger group can exert over them. Not without good reason, he plans to overthrow the current leaders and to take over and kill anyone who resists. It does not come to this, but in the end Alexandria’s leader and its people realize that they are weak and ill-prepared and allow the main character to take over peacefully, but not without having him quickly murder a problem member of their community with no hesitation.
(Exiting major spoiler zone) The lesson they learn and that all the survivors seem to learn is that brutality is absolutely essential for survival; the question is, how brutal do you need to be and how brutal is too far and all-consuming? There is no easy or clear answer. What is clear is that the best of the survivors who have the most of their humanity intact have been able to survive by being able to become coldly, animalistically brutal in an instant and sometimes have to go “too far” just to survive in the jungle of the world in which they live. The softer, kinder ones in the group are usually the ones who die. And even as brutal as they become, the depravity, cruelty, and brutality of many of their opponents is so spectacular that there are clear moral distinctions even when all the people in question are incredibly brutal. Without the protections of society, no social contract to reign in our worst tendencies, brutality becomes absolutely necessary. Sometimes there is no “good” choice, only a less awful or even a totally unclear choice. The series makes this quite clear, and a popular game based on the series by Telltale Games that presents the player with truly heart-wrenching and gruesome personal choices similar to those in the show makes this even more clear.
The Leftovers (SPOILERS THROUGH SEASON 1)
HBO’s The Leftovers, the second season of which just started, was an emotional tour de force unlike anything I have seen on television before. As the show opens, we see a small upstate New York town and witness the moment when some people just disappear. Into thin air. No explanation, just fear, panic, terror. We then fast forward to three years later, to the same town, and learn via background news casts that four years ago, 2% of the world’s population just vanished. All types of people: good, bad, rich, poor, black, white, atheists, Christians, Muslims, Asians, Africans, all over the world, in every country. As the entire world tries to come to grips with this mystery, the families and friends of those who vanished—the vanished being referred to as “The Departed”—struggle to go on with their lives, to feel life, to find meaning. (SUPER SPOILER SECTION: if you haven’t seen the show, stop here) These people—called “Legacies”—are most poignantly represented by one particular character, who lost her husband and two young children to the Sudden Departure. She still lovingly buys them groceries each week, as if they were still there. She has taken a job helping provide benefits to other Legacies as a case officer/interviewer for the U.S. Department of Sudden Departure. You might think that this job brings her a sense of purpose and closure, but it entails her interviewing Legacies with a long list a very unpleasant and intrusive questions that leave her and her interviewees emotionally drained at best. Just to feel alive, just to feel anything, she regularly hires hookers to shoot her with a gun while she dons a bulletproof vest. She is miserable, and drowning in her grief. And she is not alone.
People want answers from above, but none come. So people creates answers on their own: numerous cults have sprung up; they are all over the news, causing violence and chaos. One cult involves a man who is something of a prophet, and fills his well-armed and well-guarded compound with his favorite delicacy: young Asian women. Another cult is setting up shop in the upstate New York town that is the center of the series; it calls itself the Guilty Remnant; its members all wear all white, refuse to talk, all constantly smoke, and they each have assignments to follow and tail specific people in the town. No one know much of anything about them, especially since they do not speak, which only makes the more frustrating to deal with.
In the shows first episode, the town is gearing up for a parade to honor the “Heroes” (the Departed). At the end of the parade, there is ceremony where a sculpture is unveiled showing a mother and a baby that is being pulled up and away from the mother. The woman who lost her husband and two kids is the keynote speaker, lamenting her loss and wishing to have them back, even if for a moment, and not even one of the better moments: she’d happily take a moment when they were all together and sick, miserable. Suddenly, the Guilty Remnant approaches from a distance, and holds up signs spelling out “STOP WASTING YOUR BREATH.” The people of the town, sad and mourning the Departed, march up to confront them. As usual, the Guilty Remnant says nothing, provoking even more anger, which spills over into violence and a riot.
Throughout the series, the Guilty Remnant continually adds new members from the town, and seek to harass people at their most vulnerable. They even buy up a Church in the center of town and convert it to one of their outposts. They break into the houses of the Legacies and steal photographs of the Departed. With these photos and through meticulous research, they find details about these people. Eventually, they secretly order incredibly lifelike dolls (an industry has popped up manufacturing scale lifelike replicas of people to cater to some of the more bizarre Legacies) in the likenesses of The Departed. After a series of building confrontations and growing hostility, they break into and place these dolls in the homes of the Legacies, dressed up as if they were still alive in the spots where they were when they disappeared. I am tearing up just now as I remember the look on the woman’s face who lost her husband and two children, a look of sheer, consuming, and raw pain, of primal anguish, silent as the sound is muted but accompanied by a soaring soundtrack. There is much more of a primal nature to come.
See, these Legacies are pretty much miserable people, drowning in depression, grief, loneliness, unanswered questions, loss. They have tried mightily to solider on. The non-Legacy, “normal” people are not doing much better. They have all had to put up with a provocative, cruel, stubborn cult in the form of the Guilty Remnant who try as hard as they possibly can to make it as hard as possible for these people to move on with their lives. The placing of the replicas of Legacies’ loved ones in their homes for them to shockingly wake up to generates a timeless and primal reaction, and it is terrifying. In a small American town not far from New York City, scenes of apocalyptic destruction erupt: the whole town, especially the Legacies, is outraged at the guilty remnant. All manner of people, even young people and even the elderly, take to the streets in an orgy of violence, bloodletting, and destruction; the town’s police force simply stands by and even the mayor just stands by, helpless, as young, old, men, women, strong, weak, all attack the guilty remnant, beating them, shooting them, destroying their compound, setting it on fire, dragging the cultists away to be tortured and murdered. Fires, gunshots, screams, blood, fill the air and background; a primal, cave-man-like hatred consumes normal people of the town; they become beasts of vengeance and nothing more. Just hours before, the town was a common, if affluent, modern American town; one act, albeit one that was a culmination of a series of acts, destroyed modern civilization and returned the town to the dark ages and prehistoric times of unthinking hatred and unrestrained brutality. This occurs in episode ten, after we have had nine episodes—nine hours—of getting acquainted with this town, its people. To see it all come crashing down, to see an entire community embrace their worst tendencies and opt for murder and mayhem in an instant, is a terrifying sight to behold, presented to us with a lyrical poetic quality that in unnerving to your very core.
It left me shaken and rattled; it may be hard to imagine 2% of the world disappearing, but for the rest of mostly ten hours, it was very easy to accept the grief and pain and hurt and loss of these finely acted characters as real, and to accept the Guilty Remnant cult as real and their actions as real. And it was very easy to accept the primal, brutal, and violent reaction as also being real, authentic, and, perhaps most frighteningly of all, understandable. You wonder how you would have been able to stop yourself from participating in the orgy of violence and destruction, and there is no easy answer. You fall into the trap of rationalizing brutality that is not even in self-defense; you come face-to-face with the beast within. The bottom line: under the right conditions—conditions that are real and possible—this can happen anywhere.
You wonder how you would have been able to stop yourself from participating in the orgy of violence and destruction, and there is no easy answer. You fall into the trap of rationalizing brutality that is not even in self-defense; you come face-to-face with the beast within. The bottom line: under the right conditions—conditions that are real and possible—this can happen anywhere.
And that is terrifying.
All of this is important when considering Syria, and when considering ourselves. Fear the Walking Dead shows us how quickly society can collapse and how quickly we can embrace depravities like torture as a necessity. The Walking Dead shows us how terribly far gone we can go away from society, and how brutality is both a necessity and a demon with which we must wrestle, needing to embrace it in order to survive but needing to check it to retain our sense of, and belonging to, humanity. The Leftovers, too, show us how rapidly society can crumble, but shows us this in a place that looks and feels very much like our world, New York suburbia, even, and absent zombies. When the power and police are gone, we resort to tribalism and bare survival. When we resort to tribalism and bare survival, we can go to frightening depths of brutality and depravity. Some rebels in Syria are brutal mainly out of necessity, like our heroes who mostly, but not always, walk the line well. Some rebel groups in Syria are just simply brutal strongmen like the Governor or the police of the hospital, trying to carve out their own little fiefdoms where they rule as kings and bring some semblance of order to a chaotic world but an order that is to their benefit at the expense of others. Other are far more gone, groups such as ISIS, not that different from the people of Terminus (and, it is hinted, the Wolves group we will encounter in in force in this new season); their embrace of brutality as a means for survival is at the full cost of their humanity. With enough provocation, any community or people can turn into animals, predatory, heartless, unfeeling when it comes to “others.”
This tendency is, perhaps, our greatest enemy, even as it is a strength in terms of survival. When it comes to Syria, just like Frodo, we must believe Gollum can come back, and we must try to help; the effort, the trying, is more important than the outcome, for, as Iain Pears writes in The Dream of Scipio, one of my favorite books:
“How do we justify calling ourselves civilized, after all? Is it the books we read? The delicacy of our tastes? Our place in continuing a line of belief and of common values that stretch back a thousand years and more? All this, indeed, but what does it mean? How does it show itself? Are you civilized if you read the right books, yet stand by while your neighbors are massacred, your lands laid waste, your cities brought to ruin?”
To simply abandon Syria and watch it burn is condone the destruction of society and civilization, and to invite a similar response were that to happen elsewhere or even in our own backyard. For, as Pears also writes:
“Action is the activity of the rational soul, which abhors irrationality and must combat it or be corrupted by it. When it sees the irrationality of others, it must seek to correct it, and can do this either by teaching or engaging in public affairs itself, correcting through its practice. And the purpose of action is to enable philosophy to continue, for if men are reduced to the material alone, they become no more than beasts.”
Perhaps most terrifying of all, the collapse of Syria is in part engineered by collective human civilization: the internet, the weapons, the logistics, the ideologies and religions and sects and geopolitical rivalries involved, all are major contributors to this conflict, all products of millennia of civilization and development. Syria’s ruin is therefore our ruin, Syria’s victims our victims, Syria’s plight our plight. The world’s inability or unwillingness to stop the greatest calamity of our age* is also a reflection of the weaknesses of our civilization, weaknesses that must be addressed in order to prevent something even worse and on a larger scale in the future.
Towards the end of his book, Pears has one of his main characters describe the Holocaust he realizes is unfolding in the middle of WWII:
“When I was at Verdun [the WWI battle]… I saw things which were more appalling than you can imagine. I saw civilization coming apart at the seams. As it weakened, people felt free to act as they pleased, and did so, which weakened it still more. And I decided then it was the most important thing, that it had to survive and be protected. Without that tissue of beliefs and habits we are worse than beasts. Animals are constrained by their limitations and their lack of imagination. We are not.
…I thought in this simple contrast between the civilized and the barbaric, but I was wrong. It is the civilized who are the truly barbaric, and the Germans are merely the supreme expression of it. They are our greatest achievement. They are building a monument which will never be dismantled, even when they are swept away. They are teaching us a lesson which will echo for hundreds of years… The Nazis are… holding up a mirror and saying, ‘Look at what we have all achieved.’…
What they’re doing goes far beyond the war. Something unparalleled in human history. The ultimate achievement of civilization. Just think about it. How do you annihilate so many people? You need contributions from so many quarters. Scientists to prove Jews are inferior; theologians to provide the moral tone. Industrialists to build the trains and the camps. Technicians to design the guns. Administrators to solve the vast problems of identifying and moving so many people. Writers and artists to make sure nobody notices or cares. Hundreds of years spent honing skills and developing techniques have been necessary before such a thing can even be imagined, let alone put into effect. And now is the moment. Now is the time for all the skills of civilization to be put to use.
Can you imagine a greater, a more enduring achievement? This will last forever, and cannot be undone. Whatever benefits we bring to mankind in the future, we killed the Jews. No matter how great the advances of medicine, we killed them. However high our achievements may soar, however perfect we become, this is what is at our heart. We killed them all; not by accident, or in a fit of passion. We did it deliberately, and after centuries of preparation.
When all this is over, people will try to blame the Germans alone, and the Germans will try to blame the Nazis alone, and the Nazis will try to blame Hitler alone. They will make him bear the sins of the world. But it’s not true.”
In the end, the world has enabled such a rapid destruction of almost an entire society in Syria, and the world allows it to continue, perpetuates it. That is hardly to suggest equally diffused global responsibility.
But if the global community cannot save Syria, will it ever be able to save itself when confronted with far greater crises in the future? It would be terrible to try to save Syria and fail, but it would be more terrible to not even try to save it and just watch it burn, consuming all inside and around in a fiery vortex of death and destruction, fed by the oxygen of nihilism and selfishness. The shows I discussed demonstrate how easily and deeply this can happen, show in great detail the dynamics of radicalization and how they can spread and corrupt all whom they touch, sparing no one, just as is happening in Syria, and show us how such shocking dynamics and sudden collapses can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone.
There are no easy answers. All I know is that Syria is a test of our current human civilization, and whether it is the mass beheadings, the thousands of sex slaves, the religious extremism, the masses of displaced, or the petty rivalries involved, we—our world, our civilization—are failing this test.
(*To those of you who would argue that the 2003-2011 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is the greatest calamity of our era, I would argue America’s 2003 Iraq invasion comes in second, and if you think that the situation in Iraq at the time of the Syrian Arab Spring uprising and the ensuing civil war contributed greatly to those events in destabilizing Syria you would be wrong, and it is most certainly the other way around, thatSyria destabilized Iraq, for, with the sacking of Rumsfeld and the implementation of new strategy led by Secretary Gates and General Petraeus starting in 2007, tremendous improvements in security and competence were made,so that from 2008 to 2012—the last year being a full year after a full U.S. withdrawal—the levels of violence were the lowest since the start of the conflict not including the initial invasion itself, particularly from 2010-2012. Furthermore, throughout the entirety of the U.S. occupation, there was no major spillover from Iraq other than some refugees, whose numbers pale in comparison to both the current absolute number and especially the proportions of Syrian refugees, and the refugee populations today in Jordan and Lebanon especially are already having a much larger deleterious effect on those countries than the situation with refugees in almost nine years of U.S. operations in Iraq did with any of its neighbors. Certainly, nothing like the 2014 ISIS march into Iraq from Syria and its civil war occurred during the U.S. occupation of Iraq in regards to any of its neighbors. I have here linked to several articles I authored detailing these facts for those who wish to read more or doubt what I have written here)
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