Yesterday at 5:35 p.m. I lay down in my air conditioned bedroom, set the iPhone alarm for 6:30, and closed my eyes. Naps after 5:00 are rare because they can mess with night sleep, but I was tired, boss, dog tired. On top of all the usual bothers that wear a soul out, a catchy promise had been attacking me repeatedly: no boots on the ground—namely, Syrian ground. Please, enough with the no boots on the ground. Shut up! I preempted the alarm at 6:27 and got up.
For the record, I’m for putting boots on Syrian ground, millions of them if that would solve the toxic problem. I don’t know the specifications of combat boots these days, but let’s start with a million of those. We should also have a million of those trendy powder puff boots girls now wear even with shorts. If the ground is going to be dusty, a couple million should be cowboy boots. To jazz things up, I’d like to see 750k red stiletto boots. What the hey?
I love the idea of boots in the Middle East, but if we put any soldiers in them, I’m slipping on my old guy gardening sneakers and marching with a “Make Love, Not War” placard. No boots on the ground is horse crap for two reasons: 1.) Yes, it’s fun to say, especially if you add a cackle and W-style grin. But we’re not talking about boots; we’re talking about human beings. So stop calling them boots. It’s like calling a woman a skirt. 2.) Remember H. W.’s “Read my lips. No new taxes”? Careful what you promise. How wise is it to rain Tomahawk missiles on Bashar al Assad while assuring him that you won’t follow up with troops if he doesn’t get the message—even if you don’t intend to? In football terms, quarterbacks shouldn’t telegraph their passes.
I propose a new promise in place of the boots deal: No Tomahawks in the sky. I voted for Barack Obama and generally support him, but come on, let’s get a clue. Expecting violence to promote peace is madness. My astute ten-year-old neighbor Patrick, who has Down’s syndrome and doesn’t bother with state-of-being verbs, describes how well shock and awe ends conflict: It not working!
Photographs of dead Syrian kids make lots of us want to take a vintage tomahawk to Bashar al Assad and company. I can even understand those who say in frustration, “Just bomb them off the map, all of them,” though this is a curious response to indiscriminate gassing in which children are collateral damage.
Just as America’s collective outrage twelve years ago at precisely this time was warranted and righteous, so too Assad’s saran gas ought to have us bloodshot with anger. If we want to make ourselves less pissed off, then bombs and boots might do some good. But if we want to make the world more peaceful, then we have to find within ourselves forms of bravery and valor that at first glance look like impotence.
You’ll ridicule me all the way to Damascus, but I believe an invasion of presence would be a much more effective response to Assad than weaponry. Instead of launching missiles, what about sending citizens? I’m not kidding. Let’s not put boots on the ground, let’s put loafers and sandals. Instead of guns, let’s carry cell phones and camcorders. Instead of Kevlar, let’s wear luau shirts.
Our mission? If we really want to stop tyrants from massacring their people with gas and machetes—I mean want to stop them enough to risk personal harm—then I bet thousands of civilians from dozens of countries standing beside vulnerable children and their parents and grandparents would deter brutality much more decisively than military action. Obviously, the danger would be enormous, but nothing magnifies the rotten face of violence like witnesses and testimony. Remember the fire hoses of Birmingham? Or Gandhi’s march on the Dharasana Salt Works? Mindful, strategic non-violence can be effective.
The trouble is, peaceful invaders have to be willing to inhale saran gas. Or maybe we can just bring gas masks for everybody. Forgive me; I haven’t fleshed out all the details of this campaign.
Go ahead, call me naïve, a crazy pinko. But I challenge people of conscience to speculate about the pragmatism and morality of a Syrian invasion of presence. How can the United States and other countries best demonstrate that Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people won’t be tolerated? What speaks with the greater clarity and wisdom: Tomahawk cruise missiles and no boots on the ground or thousands of courageous warriors armed with their eyes and voices? My money’s on the eyes and voices.