Some of you may remember the Lusitania from your school days studying World War I. In 1915 this British passenger ship sailing from the US was hit by a German torpedo and sank, killing nearly 1200 people.
At the time the US was neutral in the war, but a number of people used the sinking of the Lusitania to fuel the argument that the Central Powers needed to be stopped.
In writing terms, you can think of the Lusitania as the inciting incident.
The gassing of Syrian civilians by their own government is today’s Lusitania. As in 1915, there’s no doubt that the event occurred. And there are people using the tragedy as evidence that one side of the conflict needs to be stopped, that in fact, the US should intervene.
The truth is, however, “inciting incidents” happen all the time, and governments resist the inclination to act. Perhaps the clearest example of this resistance occurred during the years leading up to World War II when Germany under Hitler’s rule annexed Austria, then part of Czechoslovakia, and finally invaded the latter.
Throughout, the war-weary European states attempted diplomatic solutions to placate Hitler. After resisting for several years, they drew the line with Poland, however, and Poland became the Allies’ Lusitania.
In contemporary times, the US government has closed its eyes to genocide in Rwanda, attacks against citizens by Idi Amin in Uganda, civil war in the Central African Republic and in Nigeria, and attacks against Christians in Sudan. None of the many incidents that cost hundreds of lives, even thousands, became a Lusitania.
The international community was aware, for example, of what went on in Sudan when the government began
a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of civilians ["Sudan internal conflict (2011–present)"]
Despite the indictment of Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (Ibid.), the US did not intervene on behalf of those people, and neither did any of the European nations or the United Nations, or any of the Arab nations.
What is it, then, that turns a human tragedy into a Lusitania?
President Obama says in Syria, US interests are at stake. More so than in Iraq, the country the US declared war on because of their threat to US interests? Weren’t Democrats viciously blasting President Bush for responding to a Lusitania that goaded the US into conflict?
The thing about Lusitania‘s–someone is always claiming conspiracy. Even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has some convinced that the US government “let” it happen so that the public would get behind the war President Roosevelt wanted to declare.
When it comes to Syria, I have questions. Where did this poison gas come from? Is Syria producing it in secret labs as Iraq was supposed to be doing? Have the investigators ruled out the possibility that rebel forces aren’t the perpetrators–for the very reason that they wanted to create a Lusitania?
And where are the other countries of the world? Why is Russia continuing to back a government accused of an action the international community agrees is illegal? Supposedly the US has the backing of other Arab nations for a military strike. But why? Why aren’t these Arab nations acting against one of their own that is out of line?
Further, why is death by gas so much more heinous than death by machette or AK40 or suicide bomber so that the government must take action in Syria when none was taken in other places or was ridiculed as evidence of Republican greed?
And finally, what would US forces strike? As I understand it, the center of Damascus, where government buildings are, is filled with civilians who have fled the fighting in the suburbs. Will the military target Damascus? And how are we to protect civilians from our bombs? Is the US killing people better than Syria killing people?
Not every Lusitania needs to be resisted, but I’m wondering if this isn’t one.