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The Cowardice of Power
By Fred Samia
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Stockholm, Sweden, 1964
Boys in Damascus.
As President Obama celebrates the 50th anniversary of the great peace march on Washington with tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, he simultaneously contemplates an attack on the people of Syria which according to international law would be illegal. As a combat veteran of the Vietnam war, a registered independent who voted for Barack Obama, and an American journalist of Syrian ancestry who has lived and worked in the Middle East, I urge our government not to attack or join in any attack on the people of Syria. It will be the people of Syria, already paying a terrible toll in that fratricide, that will suffer under the missiles and bombs. Having witnessed first hand collateral damage in Vietnam and Lebanon, I can attest that such weapons will never be "smart." Rather, they miss their targets with predictable and horrible consequences. I also saw in person and reported on the repression and fear that Hafez Al-Assad, the father of Syria's current president, instilled in that country's citizens.
The waywardness of the technology aside, President Obama also risks trampling whatever moral rectitude the United States has left in its foreign policy bag. He, and especially Secretary of State John Kerry, himself a Vietnam combat veteran, should know that violence can never stop violence. In the words of singer Holly Near, how does "killing people show that killing people is wrong?" And despite Kerry's impassioned statement on the use of chemical weapons the administration has yet to provide any hard evidence as to who is responsible. Kerry astounds when he rejects out of hand the possibility of an act of provocation, no matter how reprehensible the idea. Has he already forgotten Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction? The American ad agency-scripted "stolen incubators" performance by the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in front of the UN? The Gulf of Tonkin incident? Or the gassing of Kurds in Halabja, Iraq by Saddam Hussein that the US initially blamed on Iran? Also to be considered is al-Qaeda's infiltration of, and influence on, Syrian rebel groups such as the al-Nusra Front, and what they would gain by an American-led attack on Syria.
Killing more innocents, as is sure to happen with any kind of bombardment, is not the way to bring peace and justice to the Syrian people. Neither is letting the fighting continue unabated. The best solution would be an immediate negotiated ceasefire and multilateral peace talks co-brokered by nations of the West and the Middle East. More than anyone, President Obama and Secretary Kerry should know that we do not have the moral superiority to dictate to another country, and that, like Vietnam, like Iraq and Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya and Tunisia, the only legacy of a military intervention in Syria will be chaos, heartbreak and more hatred of the United States. Acting from a place of power against the weak or defenseless is not courage but cowardice.
Fred Samia is a Marine veteran of the Vietnam war with seven decorations including the Purple Heart. As a free-lance journalist he has worked in the Middle East, Scandinavia and Europe, for, among others, UNWRA (the United Nations Relief Agency for Refugees); Lawrence (MA) Sunday Sun newspaper; Pacific News Service; Monday Morning magazine (Beirut); Counter Spy Magazine. He was co-producer on the PBS-aired documentary, "Voices in Exile: Immigrants and the First Amendment." His father's parents immigrated from Syria in the early 1900s.