The Human Cost of the Syrian War

GianPaolo Salvini, SJ

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The war in Syria has occupied a great deal of space in all forms of media for some time now. Our journal has reported numerous times,[1] attempting to help provide an understanding of a war with no end in sight, in which friends and enemies separate and come together again at different times in a kaleidoscope of alliances and conflicts that are often incomprehensible. Every piece mentions the victims, especially the innocent victims of this ruthless and never-ending war. In this article we want to talk only of the victims, leaving the description and interpretation of the war and its various phases to more strictly political contributions.

The most detached articles speak of “collateral damage” or even worse of “collateral victims” to indicate the unforeseen, accidental and harmful results of the war. Zygmunt Bauman[2] wrote that the justification for the atrocities of war are hidden behind the principle expressed in the metaphor: “You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.” The problem is that it is not the eggs – the human beings in this case – who choose to make the omelet, but the powerful interests of the moment that decide when and what eggs will be sacrificed to make the “right” omelet. In any event, it will not be the eggs who taste the result of a sacrifice that they did not choose.[3]

The fact that we speak of “accidental outcomes” rather than “collateral damage” seems to dampen the impression that it is necessary to condemn those who provoked the war, and that we are claiming our insurance, as is the case when some other sort of damage is caused. It gives the impression of a “side effect” of a war, seemingly to provide the image of a medicine necessary to heal a disease. But war is not the right drug: it kills the patients, it does not treat them.

Unfortunately, the duration and the ruthlessness of the war in Syria demonstrate, once again, the illusion of having created an international body able to ensure peace and avoid war, after the 50 million deaths caused by World War II. Indeed, although its actions have in many cases been commendable, the United Nations has not proven able to fulfill the principal aim for which it was established: to keep peace in the world. In the case of Syria, it is also useful to recall that most of the victims of the war are civilians: men, women and children, i.e., people who are defenseless.

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