October 19, 2017
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Flashback: Editor's Note for "Syria Stories" Reader Magazine

by Chris Theodore

In 2003, at the age of 85, Robert McNamara, who forty years earlier was the Secretary of Defense for the United States, gave a series of filmed interviews reflecting back on the lessons he had learned and on the nature of warfare.  

It is an unforgettable set of interviews because he pulls no punches, including saying that the only thing which prevented the world from total nuclear apocalypse during the Cuban missile crisis came down to (snapping his fingers)--luck-- not any diplomatic brilliance or rationality on the part of leaders of the USSR and the US.  

One of the main blunders he brings up regarding how the US (and he) conducted the Vietnam War was our failure to empathize with the enemy.  Without empathy--which he distinguished from sympathy-- the US did not know what the enemy was fighting for or willing to die for, and so the war went on and on.

Fast forward to today and consider Daesh.  If we were to apply McNamara's advice, we might conclude that to understand this enemy requires us to understand who is not our enemy, including Syrian refugees running for their lives. 

In this issue of The Reader we examine the Syrian crisis by letting you hear the stories of the Syrian families, orphans, and others who are running from the same terror, hatred and cruelty that rained down on Paris in November.  

Creating this Reader has been amongst the most difficult I've ever participated in.  For one, putting it together happened during the four year anniversary of our losing our son, an event which has subsequently made others' suffering more real and painful to me.  

Still, over time, as the Syrian crisis evolved from a barely mentioned uprising into a full-fledged, humanity-crushing civil war there was a level of truth about this conflict that I reflexively avoided.  In order to honor those who have been caught up and have suffered through this horrific story I began to read the stories I had avoided and see the images I had avoided.  The result was a blinding pain, a knocking out of trivial preoccupations, and a questioning of why I cared so little.  

But if this is the response by any of us, how much different are we to those in past conflicts who knew of the suffering of others and did nothing?  

The right response to having gifts in a world which needs them can be found in the story of Dr. Jacques Bérès, who three years ago, at age 71, left the comfort of Paris and his well-appointed hospital to go to the city of Homs, Syria.  "He used sadness to energize a gift, to be a person who brought healing in the midst of war. A person whose countenance of “quiet energy and purpose” affected all those who were working with him.' , writes Marilyn Gardner.  

Learning the stories and thoughts of heroes like Dr. Beres and Syrian heroes will hopefully set the stage for that crucial understanding-- in a time of conflict and fear-- of knowing who is our enemy and who is not. 

So we begin this issue of The Reader, Syria Stories, with this setting of the scene by Amal Hanano.  

The story of a nation begins and ends with the stories of its people. For over forty years, the authoritarian regime had tried to make the story of Syria, and thus its destiny, the narrative of one person and of one family. I always knew we lived within the confined walls of [this tyrant], but I did not realize that we had become ghostlike shells of ourselves. You never know how much of yourself has disappeared until you face a mirror of truth to expose what had been hidden behind the facade of false (and forced) loyalties.