Countless Children Are Victims of War
Over my long life I have seen this look of shock before - you never forget a face that has seen the horrors of war.
The boy pulled from the rubble in Aleppo caked in the dust of his disintegrated apartment is as poignant and as moving to me as Picasso's painting Guernica. Picasso's canvass depicts the trauma of Spain being fought over by two superpowers in a bloody mechanised war in the 1930s. But that boy in Aleppo isn't art; that boy is flesh and blood, and we should always remember his life will be forever marked by something that, although it pains us, will pass.
In time, the searing photo of that boy staring out past the camera's lens in dumb horror at us whose post codes still exist in civilisation may hang in an art gallery like other great works of art that depict war. Perhaps, in time, long after the Syrian war has ended and another war has started somewhere else on the globe — gallery visitors in expensive clothes, with their stomachs full from a satisfying lunch and their minds filled with a dozen mundane tasks — will muse over this boy's blank expression. They may even, while looking at this photo, pity the children of war, and when they return home hold their children who live in peaceful societies closer. But like everyone else who sees war in an art gallery, in newspapers, online or on television, they will return to the relative peace of their neighbourhoods across the Western World.
But Omran Daqneesh, if he survives this senseless war, will spend his entire life trying to erase the trauma, the fear and the grief caused from that moment when the bombs fell and whatever simple pleasures he derived from childhood ended.
Over my long life I have seen this boy's look of shock and blank horror before. I first saw it in the faces of soldiers from the first World War who shared digs with my family in Depression era Bradford. They, as young men had done battle in the Somme, Paschindale and countless, nameless skirmishes in no man's land. So after the guns had gone, their faces still looked as if they had been touched by Medusa because they all had a similar glow of emptiness. They signified that the true cost of war was knowing that mankind is more cruel than the animal kingdom.
As a young man in uniform during the Second World War, I experienced air raids in Britain and saw first-hand London burn from malevolent incendiaries that had been hurled against our capital by the evil forces of Nazism.
It upset me and enraged me as a 19-year-old in 1941, when I saw civilians killed by bombs, but I can not imagine what it would have been like to have experienced war at the tender age of five, like the Syrian lad pulled pulled from the wreckage in Aleppo this week. No matter what good may come to him after this he will always be alone in his heart because of what he has endured.
But since my birth in 1923, there have been thousands if not millions of young children who have been victims of war; maimed, battered and killed; while adults pretended they were making a safer world for them to grow up in. Throughout my life, the lives of my parents and their parents before them to the the moment of genesis; humanity has been known for two character traits - our need to nurture children and also our ability to sacrifice our young in wars that generally only benefit the elites of the human race.
Like Abraham we will put the sword to our children if tested by war. I have seen this proven true time and time again. I saw it in the wreckage of London during the blitz, Hamburg during the RAF raids, Hiroshima during the atomic attack, Hanoi during the Vietnam war, Sarajevo during the Yugoslavian civil war, Chile during the war against Allende, and across the continent of Europe through the 1930s, 1940s and into the cold war.
My wife, who was a German child victim of war, spent time in a hospital bomb unit in the city of Coburg. She was 13 and had third-degree burns all over her back. In the bed beside her was a boy who would have been a similar age as the boy who was pulled out of the wreckage in Aleppo this week. However, the German boy who my wife befriended in the summer of 1943 had suffered severe injuries from the bombing.
His legs had been horribly injured by the bombs dropped on his house by the RAF I belonged to. My wife remembered him as a jolly lad, who despite his pain tried to ease the anguish she endured from her burns. He would sing her songs and call her by the pet name of Edelweiss. But one day, he called out to her that he couldn't feel his legs, and by the next day at the age of six, he was dead. Had he lived, he would now be a grandfather in his eighties, enjoying retirement with his wife and memories of a well-lived life.
All the deaths I have seen either close at hand, or in the media over my long life sadly tells me that the boy in Aleppo won't be the watershed to end this war in Syria. The watershed will be when we the people ask why should arms merchants profit so that our children may be butchered in wars that benefit no one but the elites.
Harry Leslie Smith is a 92-year-old Second World War veteran, activist and writer. His first book, Harry's Last Stand, was published in June 2014 and his second, Love Among the Ruins, is out now. Check outwww.harryslaststand.com and follow him on Twitter at @Harryslaststand
Source: International Business Times