Devastating conflict goes on around the globe every day. When conflicts go on, with no clear end in sight, people grow weary, bored. They move on to the next hot spot. Unfortunately, the people involved cannot move on. I was recently shocked by two separate postings on Twitter that illustrated these points. The first was a passing announcement that the previous month (March 2014) recorded no US military deaths in Afghanistan. I had not hear any statistics in so long that I forgot. The other post, made by a Syrian, was more snarky but made a valid point, asking if we remember when we used to post how many people were killed in Syria each month. Their horrific civil war has been going on for three years.
I am myself guilty of this. When the US first went into Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, I watched movements daily. The same happened when the US went after Saddam Hussein in Iraq. As the months and years went on, the battles, IEDs and ambushes became “routine.” I stopped checking the news daily. It just seemed to be the same news over and over. The names became numbers. The numbers became…well, we, as a people, began to forget.
I vowed not to do that again when I began watching the crisis in Syria unfold into civil war. I know that seems odd, given the US is not involved. It isn’t just conflicts the US is involved in that I follow. I understand the world is related, even if by small threads, and that what happens in a place like Syria can eventually have an affect on the US and her allies. What surprised me most about Westerners watching the Syrian conflict was the quickness of apathy. Thousands of Syrians had been killed by their own government and by rebel forces, yet, the West quickly lost interest. Until Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. It was then that Syria made it back into Western news. The US called the use of chemical weapons a red line, and that consequences would follow. Well, no action followed, and a deal was made that Syria give up its chemical weapons. Many casual observers saw this as a “win,” not only because Assad was forced to give up the chemical weapons but also because the US was not going to get involved. In the meantime, Assad continued his assault on the rebels and Syrian people using traditional weapons, killing over 100,000 Syrians- some place the number as high as 150,000. Over a million refugees have passed into Lebanon alone, not to mention the countless refugees in Turkey. Syria was now back pages, yet the conflict continues.
In November 2013, the Ukrainian government decide not to sign a trade agreement with the European Union, under pressure from Russia. Ukrainians, tired of Russian influence in the government, took to the streets of Kyiv in protest. Day after day, month after month, Ukrainians stood in protest, calling for an EU agreement, then eventually for the resignation of then-president Viktor Yanukovych. The protesters faced regular clashes with police. Eight people died in those clashes by 18 February. On 20 February, all hell broke loose. Snipers (now known as under the order of Yanukovych) began firing upon the protesters in the Maidan, in central Kyiv. Reportedly, 76 people were killed that day by sniper fire, making the death toll for February 2014 over 100. President Yanukovych was run from office, and an interim president was named. In March 2014, Russia annexed Ukrainian Crimea and forced a referendum. Without a shot fired, Crimea became part of Russia. Since then, Ukrainian-Russian tensions have continued, but it as daily news has waned. No shots were fired, Russia didn’t invade, no war was started. Minor skirmishes in Eastern towns don’t have the same draw as all out war.
For some reason, Western media hasn’t really picked up on the ongoing unrest in Central African Republic, Venezuela and Thailand. These conflicts don’t risk the possibility of US or Western involvement, therefore hold no interest? For thousands, this is their life.
I wish I had the time and energy to track down the reason why the world loses interest in long conflict. Desensitized? Burnout? Unfortunately, it is the way of the world now. We pay attention to the sexy, the violent, the personal. When that gets boring or goes away, we move on to the next thing. Sadly, the people directly affected by these conflicts cannot move on. They have to live with it everyday. Muslims in CAR have to worry that they’ll be killed for being Muslim. Who of those who oppose Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela will be the next victim? Will Thailand’s pro-government Red Shirts fight back if the government is ousted?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I wish I did. I do know that more of us should pay attention to what goes on in the world – myself included – as it may eventually affect us. Like it or not, the world is no longer made up of isolated continents. Globalization means the world is intertwined more than many know. The Syrian civil war outcome has a great impact on the security of the Western world as many anti-west terrorist groups are making themselves known in the region, a central location. Allowing an aggressive Russia to make inroads in Ukraine permits a direct threat to any pro-Russian region in Eastern Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it well known how he believes Ukraine is a region of Russia. In Venezuela, Maduro’s policies are bringing down the country, destabilizing the region. Continuing unrest in Africa allows more unsavory elements to move in, be it regional warlords or terrorists groups. The impacts may not seem direct, but any global conflict can have an impact on Western interests. So perhaps we should pay more attention to the long, ongoing conflicts. They may someday have a direct impact on us.