“Suffer little children…” It’s right there on page 23 in the New Testament portion of the black, leather-bound Bible I’ve had since I was 14, still little more than a child myself in more ways than I cared to admit. “Suffer little children,” that’s what Jesus said, but this isn’t how he meant it.
The image glows on my computer’s monitor. A young father holds his twin babies, their eyes closed in sleep. His daughter has brown hair. It’s curly, maybe a little unruly. The son’s hair is short and reddish. At first glance, the picture speaks serenity, but it becomes troubling upon close examination. The children in the back, both boys maybe 7 or 8 years old, look sad. The face of the man with them is painted with concern as he gazes upon the babies cradled in their father’s arms. The son’s forehead is mottled a pale purple beneath that crop of ginger hair. Any remaining hopefulness is stripped away by the caption, which indicates the infants are dead, killed in a chemical weapons attack.
April 4, 2017
On April 4, 2017, a Tuesday, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed a chemical attack on his own people in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in the country’s Idlib Province. An investigation after this incident in Syria’s ongoing civil war indicated two agents were used, chlorine gas and sarin gas. Chlorine burns the eyes and, as it is drawn into the mouth and nose, the throat, the lungs, it blazes an agonizing and destructive path. Sarin is an extremely potent neurotoxin. Victims convulse and foam at the mouth while the heart and the muscles surrounding the lungs overstimulate, until they stop moving altogether. This is how 52 adults and 20 children died.
The US Counterattack
Two days later, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat airbase, which housed the planes used during the Khan Sheikhoun attack. Six Syrians died, but the strike made very little difference in the war. It did, however, help improve U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s abysmal approval rating.
Some applauded his response, while others questioned his motives, pointing to multiple tweets Trump had made during Barack Obama’s presidency, including one from September 5, 2013, which read (in all capital letters), “AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!”
So, what caused President Trump to authorize the attack? Was it the faces of the wounded and dead children? Was it an effort to focus people’s attention away from the probe into his possible ties with Russia? Does it matter? Does the end justify the motivation? The launching of the missiles was symbolic and, at least outwardly, brought out anger, rather than fear, in Assad.
Can the world simply watch as babies die horrific deaths at the hands of their own government? The simple answer is no, but international diplomacy and war never have a simple answer. The path to peace in Syria will be long and very complex.
“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14 (King James Version)