As I sit comfortably on the first Saturday of October and prepare to pen these words, I look out the window at the blue skies, a ragged cloud here and there. Nearby, a couple of cypresses swing in the light breeze.

Whatever troubles ail me, they mean nothing, because we’re all calmly going about our business as a quarter million people get bombed into oblivion.  What is this world we’ve made, where a city two hours flight time from Rome becomes a passing statistic?

This is the world of Aleppo, a city filled with citizens, activists, or terrorists, depending on who you ask. This is a city where Syrian and Russian planes are raining fire and brimstone, using a ceasefire as a springboard.

Putin has brought in some choice gifts, including the arsenal used to raze Grozny. Авиационная вакуумная бомба повышенной мощности (АВБПМ) is the Russian name for a thermobaric bomb, but its friends call it the ‘father of all bombs’.

There’s no shortage of websites describing these devices (thankfully no Google ads), conventional weapons that generate high pressure shock waves, high temperature, and strip the surrounding air of oxygen. Human beings like you and me are slammed, fried, and asphyxiated. Little children too, of which there are one hundred thousand—we remain unsure how many are activists and terrorists—I guess it depends who you ask.

Lacoste isn't the only blessing from great powers bestowed on these poor children.

Lacoste isn’t the only blessing from great powers bestowed on these poor kids (photo from the NY Times).

Bunker busters are another favorite—as the name suggests, these babies are designed to penetrate military fortifications—instead, Assad is using them on apartment buildings. The particular feature of this weapon is that it first penetrates the wall of a building and then explodes.

In the midst of this nightly mayhem, where any source of light is a potential target, a volunteer group called the White Helmets sifts through the ruins dragging out survivors—some are found dead the next day in another pile of rubble.

The history of the ancient city of Aleppo makes wonderful reading—it identifies a community which harbors the genotype of civilization. The city has been ruled by many, and presumably razed by some—what is happening there now is not new, probably not even different.

Maybe that tradition of invasion, resistance, and conquest is why this fight is taking so long, despite the uneven odds. Russia has taken twenty casualties, hardly a reenactment of Afghanistan, but Assad can only muster twenty-five thousand men, half the current forces at his disposal.

I’m not sure two brigades are enough to take the city, which explains why the Russians are busy starving it to death and bombing it to oblivion.

Records of occupation begin twenty-three centuries before Christ, or twenty-nine before Mohamed. Eight hundred years later, the Egyptians arrived, and stayed for a hundred years. By the 9th century BC, the Assyrians were there. Six hundred years on, Alexander the Great stopped by—the Macedonians didn’t linger, they only stayed twenty years.

Then the Romans came, and kept the city for five centuries. As Islam began to spread, the Caliphate came a-calling (lately they’ve had a re-run). In 1260, the Mongols arrived—Hulagu Khan’s army, which could be smelled from miles away.

Khan was allied with Armenians and Franks. They laid siege to the city for six days, using the equivalent of thermobarics and bunker-busters—a variety of catapult called mangonels.

The citadel resisted for over a month. When it finally capitulated, the invaders destroyed it and massacred all Muslims and Jews. Women and children were spared, destined to be sold as slaves. Thorough as usual, the Mongols burnt the Great Mosque of Aleppo. In 2013, clashes in the current conflict destroyed the minaret.

After the Mongols, the sultans returned. Then the Ottoman empire took over, and stayed for four hundred years.

This is only a subset of the visitations of Aleppo. Romans, Turks, or Franks were not exactly shrinking violets, so the citizens of this ancient city are no strangers to violence.

I have no doubt Aleppo will survive, and I’m sure the people who live there are mostly good people—it’s a city, and they’re just citizens, like in your town.

Of course it’s also a refuge for bad people, and you can call them terrorists if you wish.

But it’s been forty-three centuries since the first occupation of Aleppo took place, and we think of ourselves as civilized and compassionate.

Isn’t it time we treated the children a little better?

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.




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