The curse of the teacher who remembers the faces that came through the years of his classrooms is that those lives so directly translate to the faces of children in danger, and all those pictures call forth a protective fury and a desire for justice that is raw and stands right next to vengeance.
When I look at the children of Aleppo, I see my students, not their faces but their spirits, their intelligence and humor, their fortitude and promise, and all those Syrian faces in photographs and videos call out innocence lost, call out the cost of trauma, call out the shattering of youth over and over and call out a bereavement in me for all those students who might have been mine in another life.
They call out a desire for counterblows against the Russians and Assad’s murderers and the Iranians who are killing everything in Aleppo. The beast emerges. I sit in front of these images and wish for a writhing death for Putin and for Assad to be reduced to hunks of bones and hair. Futile rage. Feckess, sterile curses.
We too have helped that happen — the United States, this government. President Obama’s policy has been a moral and political tragedy. Trump’s will be worse.
I wonder if in the realm of the powerful, our Gatsby infatuation is real — at its core it embraces our ingrained belief in the absurdity of history, our delusion that it does not apply to us, that we can avoid its cause and effect because it simply does not exist, not for us, not for our exceptional innocence in this “shining city on the hill.”
We have known the truth. In September the New York Times reported that “Unlike in some other smaller-scale sieges of recalcitrant cities in Syria, the Syrian government forces and Russian military have begun dropping extraordinarily potent and not terribly precise “bunker buster” bombs which can obliterate underground shelters, residents and aid workers say.
Residents of east Aleppo have also reported the use of incendiary cluster munitions — bombs that contain hundreds of small bomblets that explode and ignite over a wide area, setting entire neighborhoods aflame.
The indiscriminate nature of the bombings appears to be of little concern to President Bashar al-Assad’s government and its Russian allies, who have brushed aside Western accusations of war crimes and made it clear that they intend to retake east Aleppo regardless of the casualties and destruction.
Hannah Stoddart, director of advocacy and communications for War Child, a charity based in London, said Mr. Assad’s government had violated international law by targeting “built-up areas, schools and hospitals, where there’s a much higher chance that children will be hit.”
“On top of that, aid access is being blocked,” she said in a statement. “So if children aren’t killed or injured, they are at risk of starvation.”
I should rage against our species I think, our murderous, tribal, feral selves who cannot learn, who cannot reform their predators’ desire for advantage. But in the same videos of carnage, the White Helmets appear over and over and over, and their young faces throw me back on all those luminous memories of thousands of kids smiling, raising up, holding forth, giving hope without intending to do so to the old who need their saving to rescue them from solitary grief.