A Primer on the Syria Crisis: The Viability of Antiwar Activism

“Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

After the 50th anniversary of Dr. King Jr.’s march to Washington, especially after the wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq, there still remains a lacking antiwar sentiment in our government. Dr. King was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and believed, amongst many things, in the futility of war and the prosperity of peace and nonviolence. When Obama spoke on the behalf of King’s legacy, many drew parallels between these two vital African-American figures in American history. Yet Obama’s inability to follow through with his pledges to end war abroad clearly clash with King’s desire to end all violence and particularly of war abroad. Colorlines has written about this “necessary tension” his presence at the March has incited, noting how Obama’s speech attempts to resemble the historic words of Dr. King yet eclipses the political differences between the two of them.

The endlessly eloquent Michelle Alexander echoes King’s sentiments, writing in The Nation,

“Less than five years after the march, Dr. King was speaking out against the Vietnam War, condemning America’s militarism and imperialism—famously stating that our nation was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He saw the connections between the wars we wage abroad and the utter indifference we have for poor people and people of color at home. He saw the necessity of openly critiquing an economic system that will fund war and reward greed hand over fist, but will not pay workers a living wage.”

The recent deployment of alleged chemical weapons, potentially sarin gas, in Syria has been the subject of much uproar. President Obama and others, notably John Kerry, have spoken out against the mass murders of Syrians, claiming it to be the work of the regime of Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad. While the toll taken on the Syrian people certainly requires some form of redress, there remain an array of concerns on how exactly such an intervention ought to take place. First, the question of whether or not these attacks were committed by Asaad’s regime have been particularly salient given the false information that spurred the U.S. invasion of Iraq about WMDs (as has been written about in the Guardian.) Secondly, there is concern about the role that the U.S. should play in yet another war abroad. These concerns and more form the fabric of the U.S.’s appraisal of the current crisis and, in part because 90% of the U.S. media is owned by 6 corporations, any attempt to understand this conflict comprehensively and accurately amongst various conflicting viewpoints and motives will require more research from every person trying to understand the situation.

This is not and cannot be a black-and-white issue. Any decision to intervene must envision the potential consequences of military action, both within the U.S. and abroad. On the one hand, too many deaths require some form of humanitarian support; on the other, the motivations of the U.S. to conduct this intervention necessitates transparency and complexity in its role in the global response to the conflict. This particular moral double-bind becomes especially complicated given that a majority of Americans do not want to strike Syria. Will the U.S. government and President Obama listen to and share the opinions of the Americans that they are intended to represent? This is a primer to enable our readers to better grasp the incredible complexities of the situation at hand in order to educate our readers about the gravity of the events before the Syrian conflict and of its possible aftermath. Efforts to gender the conflict in order to see how it differently impacts women and children in integral to current feminist activism. Add your voice to the ongoing conversation by commenting below.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of readings pertinent to the Syria conflict.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Conflict in (and Country of) Syria

On Syria: Don’t Surrender to Trust by Rick Perlstein

Standing Up to the Hawks in Congress by the Editors of The Nation

Obama Plans ‘Shock and Awe’ in Syria & Obama’s Syria War is Really About Iran and Israel by Bob Dreyfuss

The Real Reason for War in Syria by Tom Hayden

If Congress Says No, Can Obama Strike? by Zoë Carpenter

Americans are no longer interested in policing the world, Mr. Obama by Michael Cohen

The U.S. has little credibility left: Syria won’t change that by Gary Younge

Hillary Clinton weighs in: Syria weapons handover would be ‘important


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