First published on December 25, 2013
We owe it to the people of Syria to pause for a moment, on this Christmas Day, and bow our heads in shame for what we, the nations of the civilized world, have not done to protect them.
In this regard, the burden Barack Obama will bear in history not only for his inaction, but also for blocking the actions of others, is enormous.
Since 2011, he has taught the American people that the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity is no longer a matter of grave concern.
He has taught the American people not to act to stop the horrors of Syria, but instead to look the other way.
He has eased any discomfort they might have felt by using the military to make the political argument that using force to halt the atrocities in Syria would be hard.
He has spoken many words about Syria, and offered many explanations of this or that turn in U.S. policy.
In thinking about Obama and what historians will have to say about his policy of inaction toard Syria, however, readers might usefully bear in mind what Theodore Roosevelt had to say when he accepted the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, about words and deeds:
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.
Whenever President Obama speaks of Syria, let us remember these words from Teddy Roosevelt.
Let us also, on this Christmas Day, at least not forget to think of the people of Syria, and to say a prayer that some leader or leaders in the world will find the courage not to talk of peace, but to act with force to halt the Syrian government’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale.
See also the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:
“Syria: As Christmas approaches, the assault on civilization continues,” December 22, 2013.
“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),” January 2, 2013.
“The Leopard and the Impala: Putin astutely plays Obama for a chump,” September 12, 2013.
“Moral cowardice in Europe and elsewhere: Bad-faith arguments on Syria by Germany and other countries lacking the courage to act,” September 6, 2013.
“Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”,” February 25, 2012.
“REPRISE: A prayer for the children of Syria,” December 25, 2013.
The Trenchant Observer