If we examine history to understand how dictators and oppressive regimes operate it is usually without moral compunction, death is a mandatory part of the ruthless course to victory. I think of Stalin and Mao, both lauded and vilified in their lifetime, in total almost 100 million died under their watch - an unprecedented figure. I also think of Pol Pot in Cambodia who systematically allowed 1. 5 million of its people die from starvation, execution, disease or slave labour in the pursuit of a nonsensical idea.
Conflict and war is a constant, and it always comes down to power. The philosopher, Nietzsche argued that the first thing that a child seeks is power, we are hard wired to try and attain it and there are those who are indiscriminate in their pursuit of it.
President Assad refuses to relinquish power. What started off as a peaceful demonstration for democracy has descended into a civil war and a situation so fractured and complex it seems the whole of Syria will be reduced to rubble in his pursuit of victory. Hospitals, civilians, children - all targets it seems in his current onslaught in the fight for control over Aleppo. He argues he will not negotiate with terrorists as he unleashes hell on his own people.
Historically, countries and cities have been annihilated in a bid to win wars; during the Second World War the world witnessed the decimation caused by the atomic bomb in Nagasaki and Hiroshima which finally forced Japan into submission. The death toll was huge exceeding 100,000. In Germany, Dresden was bombed in February 1945 killing 25,000 on that day, which marked the end of the war. The strategy was brutal, but it worked. Japan and Germany learnt from the lessons of history and are two of the least belligerent countries on the planet.
Detail from War on a Scroll part 3 - part of a series of 10 scrolls I am creating about war - my anti-war protest, this drawing depicts a scene in the aftermath of the holocaust.
It's a shame that other countries have not learnt much from history and the lessons of war. What is ironic is that Bush and Blair took it upon themselves to remove Saddam Hussein from power seeing him as a global threat when at the time he posed little threat, there were no weapons of mass destruction, he had committed war crimes against the Kurds which were despicable, but that didn't warrant military intervention. What ensued saw the destruction of the infrastructure of Iraq and the emergence of a dangerous power vacuum, plunging the country into chaos and instability (which still continues) allowing the subsequent rise of Islamic extremism and ISIS who are battling for power in both Syria and Iraq.
What would the world order look like if Saddam were still alive? Once Gaddafi was unceremoniously deposed Libya descended into mayhem, whatever we think about Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein dictators seem to keep their countries together and warring factions in check through oppression. If Assad did go, who would fill that power vacuum? Would the alternative fare any better? It appears that the Middle East is not ready for democracy; those countries that are flourishing like Saudi Arabia are in effect dictatorships ruled with an iron fist - no dissent is tolerated. Case in point the Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, who faced 50 lashes for writing a blog urging for greater freedom of expression.
Assad is still around and alive, while other dictators have been deposed, he is from a dynasty and his father before him had no qualms about crushing resistance in 1982, killing 40,000 people in order to restore order and power. He has powerful allies in Russia and Iran, whatever happens Assad is staying.
We hear about Assad, but we don't see him, we do not know where he is, there are people loyal to him, soldiers that have lost their lives through decapitation for him. Then there are others that despise him, like those trapped in Aleppo, once a thriving city, with ancient beauty that now lies in ruins.
Detail from War on a Scroll Part 2 (pen and ink on 30-foot scroll of paper, mixed media 2015)
We don't hear much about Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya anymore or Yemen as the Saudi-led bombing campaign to defeat the rebels renders Yemen on the verge of famine.
And these wars that rage are for what purpose, not the good of the people because who would inflict such hell on an individual? It is in the pursuit of power for bits of land and/or oil and resources. That's what it comes down to, land, or should I say rubble and the subsequent subjugation of a people to maintain that power.
Detail from War on a Scroll Part 3 (mixed media on 30-foot scroll of paper, 2016)
Putin is not about to give up, nor Assad, the death toll will continue to rise because history has shown us that this is what ruthless dictators consistently do to cling onto the reigns of power. They show no mercy. Syria will be reduced to nothing, the country's population has already diminished significantly as people have fled while those that chose to stay are trapped with a generation wiped out and scarred by war. There is no victory; only time will be a healer. This war is a protracted one, civil wars often are.
The world sits passively protesting but does very little knowing Russia is impervious. Countries seem more embroiled in their own problems with the US facing Trump as potential President and Europe confronting its own demons with the rise of xenophobia and right wing extremism. Despite the evident plight of the Syrians and others trapped in war torn countries, Europe has lost empathy, lost the will, lost the support of their local people to let anyone else in. They argue there is no space, that services are under strain - remember Brexit was fought and won primarily on the issue of immigration and the refugee crisis. Think back to Farage's vile 'Breaking Point' poster. Merkel has suffered in the polls and the recent election has seen the right wing party Alternative for Germany (Afd), beat Merkel's party in the state vote; once an immutable figure, she seems beleaguered and on her knees today.
As sympathies for the plight of refugees wanes, what hope is there for them in Syria and beyond? Where do these people go? Displaced and beleaguered by war? What do they do? Do we just let them die? Do we keep the door shut?
When will Syria's suffering end? When will the suffering of Iraqis end? The people of Yemen, Afghanistan... When?
As long as leaders like Assad exist, rebel factions, al Qaeda, ISIS, it is a long, long road to peace, rebuilding and stability.