The wail came from his scorched mouth, "Why do they bomb children at school?" In torment from the burns, the crushed shoulders and neck, remarkably, his mind was riveted on the violation of his innocence and a child's expectation of safety. He was 12 or so. I felt his distress as that of my son, who at 12 was also hospitalized, but for a biological event -- a mutation that threatened his life -- leukemia. This boy's story was different and his life threatened absolutely unnecessarily. His innocence had been violated by some pilot in a jet who aimed the napalm bomb at his school somewhere in blood-bathed Syria and obliterated his friends and left him near dead. He is my son and a child of all of us. His accident of birth was to have been born in the screech of Syria. His question is for all of time and for all of us, "Why do they bomb children at school?"
We are all potentially receptive to his cry, even the pilot, even the thugs who plot the destruction. For there is no possible justification. And every one of us has been a child and knows in our depths that cry, that need for shelter, that obligation to protect the innocent, that monstrous crime of targeting the innocent for whatever imagined gain we can concoct. That cry needs to ring throughout time and place. It is not a question but an accusation. There is no possibility for self and social congratulations when such horror still crushes. We may take pleasures, but there is a cost -- the background of insensitivity and disowning, the willingness to pretend our helplessness. Syria may be particularly brutal, but no worse than the Congo, nor that different in impact for a family in Oakland, California mopping up their child's blood.
Some weeks ago, I heard a story about two villages having been destroyed and the surviving families -- men, women and children -- evacuating to higher ground, and finding no safe zone. They were surrounded by those who sought to exterminate and there would be no escape. The end of the world was coming for them. There would be no mercy; there was no hope, no rescue. I listened and was horrified. I never heard of their finality. No doubt it was drowned in the blood of so many Syrian dead and traumatized.
Empathy means putting myself in others' shoes. We are equipped with empathy neurons and we nurse our young, raise and shelter them, which means empathy is truly hard wired, arising early in evolution as mammals took form. Empathy means we feel others' torments and can experience their feelings from pain to pleasure, from hopelessness to bliss. And they feel ours. It is a higher form of connection, more complex and social. It has evolutionary value, as it is part and parcel of raising brainier, more complexly behaved forms. And the requirements for empathy being engendered include identification as family, group and species, and the capacity and desire to protect and provide for dependent young.
Syria is not a new phenomenon. It just seems more molten and savage. Coming on the heels of the Gaddafi group's willingness to exterminate its own, Syria seems an even more brutal lack of any element of mercy and kindness for anyone but those in the immediate tribe -- perhaps, not even that. For the Assad tribe will not recover from this. They won't go onto happy lives on the Riviera, or a peaceful, milk and honey reconstruction. Feeling them is to choke with ego and hate for anything in the way, anything that opposes, and delusions of victory and survival. They will not sleep well, nor engender trust, nor be admired for their toughness. Bloated with weapons sent only for the geopolitical games of the great powers, the Syrian war is as mad as it can get. What beliefs suffice to motivate? That my Islamic schism is the truth more than yours -- to the extent that I want to obliterate all those who have the other view? That my maleness will predominate over the others -- I am tougher, I am the super beast of all beasts -- feel my muscles, my sting, my crushing of you? Is that the sufficient pleasure to motivate? The feminine aspect has been completely suppressed. Morality and sensitivity has been replaced by blood lust and willingness to die. But for what? Left to our beast, we see things only in the immediate foreground. Any future is a delusional dream.
There will never be a Syria again. The alien thugs who don't fear death and seem to welcome it as a format for getting out of here for imagined promised lands have moved into the neighborhood and are clubbing to death those native forces who arose at first peacefully and who genuinely demanded justice, representation and better, more civilized lives. Their soft bodies were beaten by steel, and shot at from rooftops by their own army. Non-violence has no chance when there is the desire to murder all those who stand in un-armed opposition. Several millions have fled -- reasonably so -- but getting out is to the probability of short and miserable lives in box canyons of neglect, poverty, stolen girls and brutalized boys. I feel their dead ends, their uprooting and hopelessness. There really is no place to go. They sit in camps as so many before them, in poor and unreceptive countries. The middle is always destroyed in such conflicts -- the educated, those who have kindness in them, those who choose to serve others. Those who are left are on one side the thugs and their dependents and on the other side the hardened opposition -- willing to risk their lives, buoyed by vengefulness and implacable hatred, knowing they have only dead-ends and false fantasies of victory. The big boys outside of Syria play with them, arming and disarming, calculating their advantages in the great game of who is on top and how to stay there, and watching the destruction -- too often gleefully, out of public sight, and without any oversight.
These are not new concerns. We have been at this a long, long time. Syria is a localized conflict compared to Europe and its wars and genocides. Some posit that there is less war and death in the world as a percentage of our ever-increasing population. Whatever the case, I find it all horrific and unacceptable. We are drenched in murder and the possibility of ever-greater means for murdering. If the Nazis were efficient killers, their means have long been exceeded. Drone wars are looming big and the folks in the way will be blown away by surveillance and targeting television aiming the bombs at living humans on the ground without hindrance or contact. That is murder.
I am with the boy in Syria. I hope you are as well. Let's make kindness and connection our major weapons in treating conflict and difference. War and the murder of the innocent -- the civilians of our world -- is not a video game! Nor is it far away. We all have an explicit right to choose our destinies and express ourselves peacefully without engendering murderous rampages. We are all engaged by the wars against humans and we need to feel the damage and fear this oppression does to us and the others who are much like us.