A Cry from the Heart: Syria and the Mathematics of War

Take a good look at the horrific pictures all over the Internet today showing the massive destruction to the city of Homs, in Syria and then come back to this article.

With the images destruction fresh in our minds, let us try and put politics aside for a moment, if that is at all possible. Let us put aside who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Let us forget for an instant that there are good guys and bad guys, Islamists and secularists, communists and Baathists, and so on.

Forget for a minute the commercial reasons why war is justified or not. Let us just look for a moment at the issue through simple mathematics.

Let us also put aside the commercial incentives that are normally attached to the reasons countries typically go to war. One: resources: oil, land, water, access to sea lanes. Two: ideology, or three: plain stupidity. Let us examine this battle for control of Homs through simple mathematics.

Located in western Syria, pre-war Homs had a population of about 1.033 million people, (2002 estimate).  Today it lies is ruins. No one is capable today of knowing exactly how many of the city’s residents remain or how many have fled.

Looking at the images of the devastation I was reminded of one of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin infamous quotes,” a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”

And how right he was.  We lament over the death of an individual but brush off the destruction of an entire city with a sigh and a wave of the hand and say something like, “its terrible,” or “those poor people. But its hard to imagine the plight of a million people, so put aside the devastation to the overall city. Instead, zoom in on just one small area of the devastated city. Pick a neighborhood. Any one. Now pick a street. Again, it does not matter which street. Now focus some more and pick a city block. Anyone will do. Again, zoom in closer on a single building, narrow your focus on a floor in that building and re-focus on a single apartment. Now, what do we have?

This is a typical apartment where a family of four used to live. A man and his wife and their two children. A boy and a girl. And perhaps a cat, too. They were nobodies. They were typical, important to each other and to their friends and families. They were common everyday people. The man was employed in a bank, maybe. The wife as a school teacher. The two children were still in school. The boy was bright and his father had high hopes for him. The daughter had started to  have panic attacks every time the shooting resumed. The cat would run and hide under the closet.

The couple had all their worldly goods in that apartment.  The washer-dryer they had scrimped and saved for, the Persian rug they were so proud to have bargained for during a trip to Aleppo a few years back.

The boy was into computers and his refurbished laptop was  his prized possession, along with the  3,245 songs he had collected over  the Internet. The girl had a small and modest collection of dolls that relative had given her over the years.

When the fighting began to get closer to their apartment, the family would seek refuge in the building’s staircase, considered to be the safest place in the building. At first it was almost a pleasant diversion. The men would bring out chairs and a small table and pay backgammon, women would sit a corner chatting together and the children would play games. But as the fighting intensified the residents had to take shelter in the basement. And then one night they had to flee, leaving all behind. The furniture, the washer-drier, the Persian rug, the little jewelry that the wife owned. The computer and the doll collection. And the cat. All that had to be abandoned.

This is a fictitious account of a fictitious family. But the war is very real and the suffering of the people is equally real. There is no doubt that there are tens of thousands of families just like this family across Homs and across other cities in Syria who are facing the same predicament.

More than 100,000 killed. Probably another 100,000 maimed. Some 1,6 million turned into refugees.

What in the world justifies ruining the lives of so many people?  What religion, what philosophy, what ideology, what belief, business, political, religious or otherwise justifies committing so many tragedies? While a million death, or in this case “only” 100,000 deaths may well be a statistic, it is primarily a tragedy multiplied 100,000 times.

The piece has been cross-posted from Oil Price with permission.

One Response to "A Cry from the Heart: Syria and the Mathematics of War"

  1. Pecos Banker   August 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Nice piece. Thanks for putting a human face on the tragidy.