How the World Closed Its Eyes to Syria’s Horror
They keep coming, both the bombs and the images from Aleppo, so many of them, the munitions raining indiscriminately on trapped families, aid workers and children. The Russian and Syrian government forces wouldn’t let them leave.
But the photographs and videos have made it out. The faces of the besieged, staring into the camera, at us, and at death, pleading for help, baffled by our indifference to the slaughter, describing the atrocities outside their bedrooms or just on the other side of the door. We see their faces from an angle we ordinarily see a friend’s face, up close, staring straight into our eyes.
They are bearing witness, in real time, refusing to disappear without a trace. And in this era of connectedness, they are refusing to let us off the hook. These images, spread via social media, unmediated, confirm that the people making them are still alive — in that moment, anyway.
We have never before received such a deluge of images from any front, never gotten such an intimate, minute-by-minute, look at what the United Nations high commissioner for human rights said on Wednesday most likely constituted war crimes.
“Please, save us, thank you,” says Bana al-Abed, a 7-year-old Syrian girl, in one video posted to Twitter. Bana has been tweeting for a few months with her mother from eastern Aleppo, where Syrian government and Russian forces bombed her family out of their home. This week she said she knew she was going to die. It is hard for me to imagine anyone watching the video without feeling intense horror and shame.
Bana’s feed has prompted Western news outlets to fiddle over whether her tweets and videos are propaganda, whether Bana or her location can be authenticated.
And Aleppo continues to burn.
“When a free-trade agreement with the U.S.A. drives hundreds of thousands of people to the streets, but such horrible bombings as in Aleppo do not trigger any protest, then something is not right,” said Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel.
No, not right. Pictures of war and suffering have pricked the public conscience and provoked action before. There was Kevin Carter’s photograph from 1993 of a starving toddler and a vulture in Sudan. There was the photograph of the dead American soldier dragged through Mogadishu, which hastened the United States’ retreat from Somalia. There was Nick Ut’s 1972 photograph from South Vietnam of the naked 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, screaming, burned by napalm. These pictures drove news cycles for weeks, months, years, helping tip the scales of policy.
不，不对。关于战争和痛苦的图像曾经刺激公众的良心，激发起他们的行动。比如凯文·卡特(Kevin Carter)1993年在苏丹拍下的饥饿幼儿与秃鹫。美国士兵尸体被拖过摩加迪沙的照片曾加速了美国从索马里撤退。黄功吾(Nick Ut)1972年在南越为9岁的潘金福(Phan Thi Kim Phuc)拍下照片，照片上的她全身赤裸，尖叫着，被凝固汽油弹燃伤。这些图片在几个周、几个月，乃至几年的时间里推动着新闻的循环更替，为政策的天平加上了砝码。
To be sure, the policy response was usually withdrawal. What might be done in a situation like Aleppo is not so linear. But that isn’t the whole story.
Does it matter that victims in Syria are Muslims? America’s president-elect won the election while playing to anti-Muslim bigotry. He sold himself to the American public as a transactional leader, promising deals, not necessarily decency. He said he admired Russia’s strongman president, Vladimir V. Putin, and campaigned on an isolationist retreat from global involvement.
身在叙利亚的受害者是穆斯林，这有什么关系吗？美国候任总统靠着反穆斯林的偏见赢得了选举。他向美国公众推销自己，说自己是一个会做交易的领导人，他承诺的是交易，而不是正派的行为。他说自己钦佩俄罗斯的铁腕总统弗拉基米尔·V·普京(Vladimir V. Putin)，并倡导孤立主义，从全球事务中抽身。
We each turn to the news we like. During the Vietnam War, Americans watched the same network broadcasts and thumbed through the same magazine photographs. There was a draft. The war was in everyone’s home. Today a tiny percentage of Americans fight our battles. We watch desperate young strangers from faraway Aleppo from the comfort of a Facebook feed. The images and voices start to blur together. A tweet by President-elect Donald J. Trump or some scandal over fake news distracts us.
我们所有人都关注自己喜欢的新闻。在越南战争期间，美国人观看同样的电视节目，翻阅相同的杂志照片。当时有兵役。战争影响每个人的家庭。今天，我们的战争由一小部分美国人来打。我们通过大量Facebook信息流看着遥远的阿勒颇那些绝望的陌生年轻人。图像和声音开始模糊在一起。候任总统唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)的推文，或一些关于假新闻的丑闻分散了我们的注意力。
Briefly, we have mourned on a significant scale two photographs, the ones of Alan Kurdi, the dead 2-year-old washed up on the beach in Turkey, and of Omran Daqneesh, 5, pulled from the ashes of Aleppo, sitting in the ambulance, wiping blood from his face. We also paused over drone footage from a neighborhood in Aleppo pulverized by the Syrian government and Russia. Then those images dropped down the collective memory hole, too.
在短暂的时间里，我们为两张照片深深哀悼，一张是死在土耳其海滩上的两岁孩子阿兰·库尔迪(Alan Kurdi)的照片，还有一张是五岁孩子奥姆兰·达克尼什(Omran Daqnees)的照片，他从从阿勒颇的废墟中被救出来，坐在救护车上，从自己的脸上擦去血迹。我们还看着无人机在阿勒颇遭叙利亚政府和俄罗斯摧毁的地区拍下的视频沉默无语。然后，那些图像也掉进了人们集体记忆里的黑洞。
That’s because all images are Rorschach tests. Many thousands of people have been killed in Aleppo, millions displaced across Syria. Syrian, Iranian and Russian forces have laid waste to half the country, instigating a refugee crisis that threatens to unmake Europe and America.
But Washington shrugs. There have been no sanctions as there were over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. There turned out to be no red lines, even after chemical weapons killed and maimed hundreds, no marches on the Mall or big campus rallies. Russia and Syria bomb civilians with impunity.
And all we do is watch, helplessly, as Syrians refuse to go quietly, determined to get us to know them, their lives, all that has been lost.
Some of the public’s indifference can of course be chalked up to compassion fatigue and disillusionment with a war in its sixth year. Promises to end the conflict were broken over and over. There were assurances about popular uprisings. Social media today supercharges protest movements, which burn out almost as fast. Such movements used to require a slow, brick-by-brick construction. They didn’t rely on Facebook videos and Instagram photos.
Truth be told, no sane person wants to see these images anyway. What’s happening in Aleppo is almost unbearable to look at.
But that’s the point. Bana looks us straight in the eye and asks us to save her, please.
We have done nothing to help.
The very least we should do is look back.