60,000 killed in Syria—REPRISE II: The Olympic Games, and the Battle for Aleppo, Begin—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #91 (January 2, 2013)

Barbarism in a Leaderless World

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights now estimates there have been “59,648 individuals reported killed in Syria between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012.” This number may in fact be well short of the actual number as tens of thousands of people are reported to have disappeared with no word as to their fates.

See United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Data analysis suggests over 60,000 people killed in Syria conflict: Pillay,” United Nations Human Rights, January 2, 2012. See Megan Price, Jeff Klingner, and Patrick Ball, “Preliminary Statistical Analysis of Documentation of Killings in the Syrian Arab Republic,” The Benetech Human Rights Program, 2 January 2013, here.

At such a juncture it is appropriate to reprise the article whose text appears below, yet again. See also Jacques Prévert’s poem “Barabara”, in The Trenchant Observer, “REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III” —Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #53 (June 19)

Originally published July 28, 2012

The Opening of the XXX Olympic Games

It was a poignant moment, as world leaders gathered in London last night (July 27) for the opening of the XXX Olympic Games, with the performance of an extraordinary spectacle, in which at one point five Olympic rings appeared suspended in the heavens over the Olympic Stadium. Over a billion people were said to have watched the opening ceremonies on television.

Here, in the very heart of the democratic civilizations of Europe, the Olympic ideal shone brightly.

In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were preceded by a “Sacred Truce” among the warring city-states, in which athletes were guaranteed safe passage to and from the games, and all fighting was to be halted for a period of one month. This period was eventually extended to allow the athletes and visitors to return home.

The games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. The ancient Olympic Games lasted for 1170 years. The Modern Olympic Games were initiated in 1896, and have been held every four years or more often since then except for 1916, 1940 and 1944.

–“Brief History of the Olympic Games,” NOSTOS (Hellenic Information Society, UK).

Importantly, the Olympic Games today stand as a symbol for humanity’s goal of one day achieving universal peace. The alternative, it seems, is either the goal of endless war, or the resignation that goes with the sense of helplessness we feel when we reject the goal of peace.

The Battle for Aleppo, and the Response of the World

Meanwhile, in Aleppo in Syria, a country where the international community and the Security Council have been unable to reach agreement to act effectively to halt the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the portents of death and destruction were all too palpable yesterday and today, as the regime’s troops, tanks, artillery, helicopters and war planes began a concerted assault on the lightly armed rebels of the Syrian Liberation Army, in what a pro-Assad Damascus newspaper termed “the Mother of all Battles”.

Today, on Saturday, July 28, the battle was joined in earnest.

For news of recent developments on the ground in Syria, see

Luke Harding (in Anadan, on the Aleppo front line), “Syrian rebels near Aleppo: ‘We are besieging Assad’s army’; Regime forces have been pulverising rebel-held districts using artillery and helicopter gunships. But the rebels are upbeat,” The Guardian, July 28, 2012 (11:35 EDT).

Damien McElroy (in Aleppo), “Badly armed rebels face tanks as Syria’s mother of all battles begins,” The Telegraph, July 28, 2012 (6:57PM BST).

Álvaro de Cózar (Special Correspondent in Marea), “El Ejército sirio avanza para tomar Alepo; Las tropas de El Asad atacan con bombas y tanques los barrios en manos rebeldes; Las líneas de teléfono y el suministro de energía han sido cortados, El País, 28 Julio 2012 (23:45 CET).

Kareem Fahim and Ellen Barry, “Syrian Military Intensifies Assault on Rebels in Aleppo,” New York Times, July 28, 2012

Unfortunately, Americans accessing the Internet do not find it easy to gain a sense of what is actually taking place on the ground, due to “The Filter Bubble” which prevents most U.S. observers on the Internet from seeing the search results for newspapers outside of their own country (including, e.g., British and other newspapers which have correspondents on the ground in Syria).  To get around The Filter Bubble, see the directions in the bottom right-hand column on the right on our Home Page, or go here.

Thus, as the world turns its attention to the joyful spectacle of athletes from countries throughout the world competing on the basis of individual merit, as humanity comes together for its quadrennial celebration of the richness and diversity of the human family, the people in Aleppo and in Syria are left to face the absolute terror and barbarism of the Bashar al-Assad regime, alone.

Russia and China, along with the Syrian regime, are clearly to blame for this state of affairs, and populations who follow international affairs throughout the world are aware of the role they have have played in thwarting effective U.N. Security Council action. Memories of how they have backed the murderous regime of al-Assad are likely to be long indeed in the Middle East, and also in the democracies of the world.

The United States and other Western countries warn of an impending massacre in Aleppo, as if anyone but they themselves could save the day.

It is a new role for Americans: Eyewitness News reporters without an inkling of any sense of moral responsibility that might lead them to act. In this role, they are following the lead of their president.

The Americans, the Europeans, top U.N. officials and others loudly deplore the lamentable state of affairs in Syria in general, and the unfolding of the “mother of all battles” in Aleppo, in particular.

Leaderless, they stand helpless and paralyzed before the terror and barbarism of al-Assad.

They provide countless declarations of moral outrage, and call for the nations of the world to increase their “pressure” on the al-Assad regime.

The “pressure” of which they speak is a “pressure” of words, of plaintive moral appeals directed to war criminals whose moral depravity is beyond dispute. Or perhaps the “pressure” may even consist of voluntary economic sanctions, imposed by different countries outside the framework of the U.N. Security Council, whose impact is uncertain and in any event will take much time.

Neither words nor economic sanctions, however, will stop al-Assad’s armies.

These leaders are at once appalled by the terror, the barbarism, the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity before their very eyes, and caught in their own moral cowardice, impotent, helpless, with verbal reproaches the only weapons they have the courage to wield. Paralyzed by their own cowardice, they will not act—not effectively, not in time to save the thousands of additional deaths that the grinding gears of war portend to claim, and of which they so earnestly warn.

Enough with Words!

These leaders can all do the world one big favor:  Stop denouncing al-Assad’s atrocities, at least until they are willing to do something really effective to bring them to a halt.

With their moral energies thus freed, they can pay close attention to the facts on the ground, to what is actually happening to thousands of human beings in the maw of war, and then they can seek quiet solace in their churches, their synagogues, their mosques, and the other spiritual refuges in which they must, as individual human beings, come to terms with what they have seen, and what they have not done.

Enough with words!

Enough with the self-absolving declarations these leaders offer to the world, and to themselves, so they can sleep at night, knowing they were present at Srebrenice, present at Auschwitz, present in Rwanda, over a very long period of time, and did nothing.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, on Words and Deeds

As for President Obama, who reportedly likes to think of himself as emulating the great American presidents, the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, come to mind. Roosevelt declared:

“International Peace”

We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

Moreover, and above all, let us remember that words count only when they give expression to deeds, or are to be translated into them (emphasis added). The leaders of the Red Terror2 prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence. Our words must be judged by our deeds; and in striving for a lofty ideal we must use practical methods; and if we cannot attain all at one leap, we must advance towards it step by step, reasonably content so long as we do actually make some progress in the right direction.

[Footnote] 2. The “Terror” is a term characterizing the conduct of power in revolutionary France by the second committee of Public Safety (September, 1793-July, 1794), sometimes identified as the “Red Terror” to distinguish it from the short-lived “White Terror”, which was an effort by the Royalists in 1795 to destroy the Revolution.

–Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, delivered May 5, 1910.

President Obama and the other leaders of the world would do well to take these words to heart, today, and every day hereafter until they find the courage to take effective action to halt the barbarism and the terror in Syria.

The Trenchant Observer


For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

Comments are closed.