Intervene in Syria? Consider a parable

  • Article by: HERBERT W. CHILSTROM
  • Updated: September 3, 2013 - 7:33 PM
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Illustration: Violence in Syria.

Photo: M. Ryder, Tribune Media Services

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My boyhood friend Harold thought he was the toughest kid in town. So did Jerry, four blocks down the street.

One day the inevitable spark ignited a fierce fistfight in front of Jerry’s home. Jerry’s mother, a no-nonsense woman, leaned out the window of her apartment only 15 feet from the fight scene.

Fists flew; noses ran blood; eyes, black and blue by morning, puffed red, and the dust swirled.

Some well-intended passersby stopped to intervene. “Leave them alone,” bellowed Jerry’s mother. “If they don’t fight it out now, they’ll fight forever.”

After another 10 minutes, Harold and Jerry — too weak to throw another punch — parted and went their ways, each claiming victory in what was an obvious draw.

They never fought again.

Congress and President Obama would do well to heed the good judgment of Jerry’s mother.

The events in Syria, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, constitute a civil war. Intervention is not only useless; it is not in our best interests.

Have we forgotten our own Civil War? It, too, was a religious conflict at its core. Clerics then, as now in the Middle East, claimed divine approval for their side. They cited the Bible; Muslim clergy cite the Qur’an.

“But what about the innocent children and other helpless victims of the war?” many will ask. That leaves hanging these questions: Will the suffering stop if we intervene? Might it not even increase? Are we certain our missiles will not kill more innocents than the gas? There is now blood on the Syrian government’s hands. Do we want it on ours as well?

Imagine for a moment what would have happened in 1862 if England or France had intervened in our bloody, senseless Civil War. They might have justified it on the same grounds — to stop the killing of thousands of innocent victims. But would intervention have changed the outcome? Might it not have precipitated an even wider conflict that would have made the carnage of that war still greater?

Finally, should we really believe that firing a fistful of missiles at Syria will stop the spread of global terrorism? Why not use those resources, first, to give humanitarian aid to refugees of the war, and, second, to shore up defenses against global terrorism here at home and in friendly nations around the world?

Turning back from intervention is not seen by many of us as an act of weakness; rather, it would be a sign of strength and courage.

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Herbert W. Chilstrom is a former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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