Sunday’s news began with a statement from the secretary general of the United Nations on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. His spokesperson said, “The mission is preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities, starting tomorrow, Monday, 26 August.
“The Secretary-General notes the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic affirmed that it will provide the necessary cooperation, including the observance of the cessation of hostilities at the locations related to the incident. ”
At the same time, the White House issued a statement: “In coordination with international partners and mindful of the dozens of contemporaneous witness accounts and record of the symptoms of those killed, the U.S. intelligence community continues to gather facts to ascertain what occurred. The president also received a detailed review of a range of potential options he had requested be prepared for the United States and the international community to respond to the use of chemical weapons.”
It looks like the Syrian government has been embarrassed into allowing the United Nations to examine what happened in Syria with the gassing and murder of its citizens. On of three things happened: 1) They really did not use chemical weapons on their own people (and the opposition did, as the Syrian government claims), 2) they think they have covered up the evidence or 3) they are just buying time. Even the Russians have urged that the Syrian government to cooperate with the United Nations’ inspection team.
This weekend was also the 72nd anniversary of more than 1,000 deaths in the Tykocin forest in Poland. The Jewish people of Tykocin were gathered in the town square and marched into the forest, being forced to sing the Jewish song for the land of what is now Israel. But it was a trick so that mayhem would not happen before the killing by the Nazis.
Some were mercifully shot. Others were just dumped into massive holes and were buried alive. The entire town’s Jewish population was murdered on one August day in 1941.
Back then, of course, there were no cell phones, no satellite phones, no digital cameras and certainly no Internet. There was no quick, surefire way to let the world know what was taking place. Although there are some conspiracy types who are saying that video from Syria was uploaded before the attacks, there is ample evidence that a chemical attack took place. Citizen journalists made sure the world saw the “evidence” and the bodies and interviewed people who were witnesses.
This could have never happened 72 years ago; we simply didn’t have the technology. The question is, however, what are the world and the United States going to do about it if, in fact, the Syrian government was the perpetrator? To this day, there is significant debate about the decision-making role of President Franklin Roosevelt and whether the bombing of Auschwitz would have been effective. The other issue debated is if bombing Auschwitz would have diverted other resources from winning the war.
The president who has said there is a “red line” that can’t be crossed by the Syrians has hard decisions to make as well. Would sending drones or bombs or planes into a “no-fly” zone make a war by proxy with Russia? Would it help the exit of the current Syrian government, or would it make matters worse for Christians and other refugees? Unlike, what happened in Tykocin 1941, evidence will be gathered quickly. There will be no pretending that what happened did not happen. The president and the world community will have to make a decision, unlike FDR. At the time, FDR did not need to address the massacres that occurred during World War II.
We have seen our government fail to act recently. We have seen this in Rwanda and South Sudan. Cameras are pretty nonexistent in those parts of Darfur and South Sudan, but they exist in Syria, where there is also electricity to recharge a battery and send a photo. This means if gassing was done by the Syrian government, we are going to have proof of what happened. It will validate the photos we saw this week.
It will not be questioned or disputed. Unlike so many of the previous war crimes where civilians were killed, action will need to be taken. The world and President Obama will have to respond.