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William Harold Coltman was the most highly decorated ‘other ranks’ British soldier in the First World War. In official terms that makes him an extremely brave man. Remarkably, he never fired a shot. As a conscientious objector he opted to become a stretcher bearer and saved countless lives. He never took a life.
Perhaps we should bear William in mind, as we are presented with the false dichotomy of taking military action against Syria, or ‘doing nothing’. It’s implied that being opposed to military action equals a lack of concern for the people of Syria, or a failure to be outraged by the use of chemical weapons. But there is much we can do to help the people of Syria which does not involve killing more of them, or escalating the conflict.
Over a million traumatised children have fled the conflict, but they are not getting the help they need because of lack of resources. Governments have failed to provide adequately for them, so we the people are being asked to step in, with numerous appeals like this: "UNICEF is working around the clock to provide children with clean water, food, medical care and warm clothing. But our resources are at breaking point and we need extra funding to continue our essential work with families affected. Please donate today and help us reach every child that needs us."
Why is it that refugees have to rely on charity for help, but money is no object when it comes to mounting an armed intervention? It is thought that should action occur, one of the weapons of choice will be the Cruise missile. They cost around $1.5million each. If our leaders are so concerned for the people of Syria, why are they prepared to spend vast amounts of money on weapons, but leave the victims of the conflict to go without essential help?
Fortunately, post-Iraq, there is a healthy public scepticism about ‘intelligence’ and officially stated reasons for military action. In a few minutes on Google one can now find several possible reasons for the rush to action which are far from noble or humanitarian.
Here, General Wesley Clark reveals that soon after 9/11 he was told in the Pentagon that the US planned to gain control of seven countries, including Syria, before any rival superpower arose.
Of course in the Middle East oil must always be considered a factor, and here we have at least one reason for suspicion. In February Israel granted oil rights in the illegally-occupied Golan Heights, seized from Syria to a company owned by, amongst others, Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch. (Surely any oil extracted from an illegally-occupied territory is in effect stolen property?) In order to exploit these rights and make lots of money, a weakened Syrian regime is essential.
It is also said that because he drew his famous red line, President Obama is obliged to act now, because not to do so would ‘look weak’, and for David Cameron not to be at his side would be ‘embarrassing’. This reduces matters of war and peace to some kind of adolescent ego trip.
William Harold Coltman showed us that to be non-violent is not to be weak or cowardly, and to refuse to take life is not to be disengaged. It is also worth noting that despite risking his life many times to save others, he survived the war and died peacefully in Burton on Trent aged 82.
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet