Aleppo has been slaughtered right in front of us — almost bomb by bomb, brick by brick, drop by drop.
The civilians — women, men, and children, we might remind ourselves — have died by bombardment, shooting and sniper fire, and lack of medical care in the four-year siege of Aleppo, which came to a brutal close this week.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, has said "crimes of historic proportions" were committed there. Although rebels who lobbed shells into the government side of Aleppo have killed and wounded people, too, Hussein said that "indiscriminate airstrikes across the eastern part of the city by government forces and their allies are responsible for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties."
"The Assad regime is actually carrying out nothing short of a massacre," Secretary of State John Kerry said bluntly.
A massacre we have witnessed. It has been difficult for reporters to reach the besieged side of town, but the people of Aleppo themselves have sent messages to the world on social medial sites.
"It's hell," tweeted the White Helmets, a Syrian group of volunteer rescue workers. "All streets & destroyed buildings are full with dead bodies."
And Monther Etaky — who describes himself on Twitter as an "activist against Assad regime, journalist and artist" and poses for a witty photo with his baby in a mustache — tweeted, "We are tired of talking, we are tired of speeches. No one listens, no one responds. Here comes the barrel bomb."
Many certitudes will be expressed after the fall of Aleppo. I'd like to raise some questions.
U.S. and U.N. policymakers often called the siege cruel and inhumane. But has their goal been to stop the slaughter, or mostly stop from getting involved? When the administration backed away from the president's declaration of a "red line" in 2013 to negotiate a deal for the Assad regime to destroy its chemical weapons, did it just let the Syrian government slaughter its citizens in countless other ways — artillery fire, bombs, and starvation — with no more challenge than another eloquent denunciation? Was the U.S. Congress any more resolute?
And after the world has witnessed massacres in Sarajevo, Sreberenica, Rwanda, Darfur and other places — and now, Aleppo — will tyrants and thugs who want to crush their own citizens feel encouraged that the world may look on in horror and disapproval, but in the end, just look away?