When the bombs started falling Friday night, I thought of two things.
The first was my 22-year-old son tucked safely in his dorm room in western Pennsylvania. I was glad he was there and glad he did not take a different path four years ago, but more about that later.
The second was Khaled Omar Harrah.
If you don’t know about Syria and its six-year-old civil war and if you want to understand the atrocities that have been going on for years, you should know the story of Harrah.
Harrah is a central character in the Oscar-nominated documentary, “Last Men in Aleppo.” For two years, cameras followed Syrian civilian rescue squad known as the “White Helmets.” You can still see it on Netflix.
We witness Harrah scanning the skies for the next barrel-bomb attack—anywhere from 15 to 25 a day at the height of the conflict. When the attacks occur, the White Helmets rush toward the bombs and collapsed buildings where they estimate they have saved some 100,000 lives.
We see Harrah and his colleagues rushing through bombed out streets, pulling babies — some dead — from loose piles of rubble. We see them saving others.
We listen in on their reasons for staying and putting their families at risk, and the ongoing debate over when will be the right time to flee.
We see the horror and lend witness to hopelessness.
This is not Saturday night family hour.
The carnage has claimed an estimated 500,000 lives.
If you want the history lesson, the United States gets an assist. It goes something like this: The Iraq war begot, the Syrian civil war, which begot a global refugee crisis which begot the rise of the Islamic State and Russia’s entry into the conflict.
In the final scenes, we see the cameras rushing to the scene of another bombing.
This time we learn that Harrah has been killed. This is a place where there are no happy endings. Harrah was one of six White Helmets killed during the filming of the documentary.
The Syrian crisis has been going on for some time. The atrocities have been well documented.
I doubt many of us has paid much attention to it.
We have no stomach for more war in far-away places we cannot locate on a map.
We’re more concerned about ourselves and addressing the problems here at home.
I suppose I’m no different.
My boy is 22 now and graduates college next month.
Four years ago, he mulled seeking an appointment at the U.S. Military Academy. I was concerned.
I admired him for wanting to be part of something bigger than himself. I applauded his instinct to serve his country, but I also told him I did not trust our leaders.
The way Congress uses the military for economic development.
The way the politicians use them as props in political campaigns.
The way they promise the moon, yet leave veterans hospitals underfunded and mismanaged.
I’m convinced that anyone that sees combat will be changed forever. I did not want that for my son. I don’t want it for anyone’s son.
There is nothing glamorous about war or its aftermath.
So when I saw the bombs falling on TV Friday night, there was sense of having been here before.
That this was another stunt — rather than a plan — to convince the world we still have some sense of morality that cares about the world.
It’s too late for that in Syria.
Harrah and many of the other White Helmets are dead, along with a half-million others.
It’s too late to convince the world we are out defend human rights and save lives.
But first I thought selfishly of my own son and his plans to go to graduate school in the fall, because I don’t want him to go to war.
I don’t want him to be changed forever.
Not unless our leaders know what the hell they are doing.