Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

September 4, 2013

Protesters decry US involvement with Syria

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — As the nation waits to learn how its political leaders will respond to a call to arms issued by President Barack Obama against the regime of  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, one Jacksonville resident has issued his own call: Stay out of Syria.

On Sunday, Eric Alvarez – whose family fled the upheaval in their native El Salvador in the 1980s, when he was just a toddler – led a peaceful protest against the proposed war, saying there is no definitive evidence of the recent weapons attack in Damascus allegedly made by the Syrian government.

“They haven't given us details on the other hand, we have other sources that are giving us more detailed accounts and that it was actually the Syrian rebels that are the ones who set off the bombs,” he pointed out as a handful of protesters marched in front of the Jacksonville Public Library, located on S. Jackson St.

Spurred by the effect of the Salvadoran Civil War on his own family, Alvarez said that over the years, he's “been doing a lot of reading about American involvement abroad,” and as someone knows first-hand “of what happens when the United States government gets involved in internal affairs of other countries,” he's wary of talk of war.

“My family emigrated because of the regime in El Salvador in the '80s, which repressed, brutalized and terrorized the population,” he said.

The Salvadoran Civil War lasted from 1979 to 1992, a conflict between the Central American country's military-led government and a coalition of several left-wing guerilla groups. The United States provided aid to the military faction, which, according to the website www.novaonline.nvcc.edu, operated “death squads which killed anyone who looked Indian or may have been supporting the uprising. The killing became known as La Matanza (the Massacre), and left more than 30,000 people dead.”

Studying the history of the Middle East, including Syria, “you see the same patterns (of internal conflict in that area) going on again and again,” he pointed out.

“The big problem with Syria at the moment is that the government is funding Islamist fundamentalists who are pillaging churches – they're burning them, they're decapitating clergy, they're trying to impose Sharia law in places they've already captured, to a point where people can't speak openly abut their faith, they can't practice it openly,” he said. “The biggest shame is that our government is now on the same side as Al Qaeda, the same ones that we were supposedly fighting against in Iraq.

“It's a slap in the face of all the soldiers, especially those who were killed (during Operation Operation Iraqi and Operation Enduring Freedom) – we are now giving (Islamic rebels) money, giving them arms so that they can turn around and someday use them on us again. It's just an insanity that the President is doing this,” he said.

Particularly when recent polls reveal Americans are not in support of going to war.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll held in late August revealed that “most Americans still do not want to intervene in Syria's civil war” – a mid-month poll found that 91 percent did not want the U.S. to take action, but that number dropped to 80 percent, according to an Aug. 30 Reuters report.

Support “increased since the suspected chemical gas attack near Damascus,” the report read.

The poll “speaks volumes,” Alvarez said. “In general, we're tired of all these wars, we can't afford these wars. We've spent trillions of dollars in the course of 10-15 years, and we just don't have the money to do it.”

And, like with the intervention by the U.S. government in his homeland, “we'll just create more problems than we'll solve,” he said. “We try to put in people that we think that are better to our interests, but they end up wanting to do their own thing, and we have to go in and take them out, so there's another conflict. It's a cycle of violence that never seems to end.”

“The last thing we need to do is get (involved in) it,” said Huntsville resident Ivan Brooks, who carried a placard bearing the message “NO U.S. Intervention In Syria.”

“We fought too many of these wars … the idea of nation-building, that we would go in there and change things … Afghanistan should have been a short, sharp lesson to the Taliban, instead in we tried to do what no conqueror has ever been able to do – from Alexander the Great to Ghengis Khan – we tried to remake the country,” said Brooks, who served from 1997-2001 as part of the Seventh Marines.

By getting our country involved in Syria “will turn a relatively stable dictatorship into chaos,” he added. “Libya is a good example of what will happen if we go into Syria.”

Both he and Alvarez encouraged citizens to encourage their government leaders to vote against going to war.

“A lot of people think they can't do anything about it,” but they can, Brooks said. “In the upcoming week, this is a chance to reply to our representatives and let them know how we feel. Show them what the polls are saying, and that the American people who oppose this war aren't wrong. More than any other war we fought, the rebels are so obviously the people we've been fighting the past 10 years.”

“We do applaud the president's desire to have Congress vote on it (after it returns to work on Sept. 9), but I don't appreciate the fact that he has made a lot of statements that were either untrue or they didn't have enough evidence to be definitive, so seems like he's trying to lead the nation on in a certain direction without having some real facts,” Alvarez said. “Write to your Congressman: Write to Jeb Hensarling and  to our representatives; write to Senator Ted Cruz, to (John) Cornyn that we don't want this war.”

While the desire to rush to Syria's aid with a show of military might is appealing to some, people need to look beyond an immediate answer and consider just how that country – and the Middle East – will be affected by U.S. Intervention, they added.

“The tragedy of it all is that (El Salvador) is now in complete shambles,” Alvarez said.

“I was only two when my family left, but I have dozens of cousins who have come through here, (and hearing) the stories of why they left, it all just confirms my belief that American involvement in these countries only leads to poverty, to strife, to violence …  it never solves the problems they set out to try to solve, but only creates more problems. War doesn't solve anything.”

Brooks' wife is a native of Jordan, the daughter a retired brigadier general with Jordanian AF.

The situation in Syria “drives her crazy,” he said, because of the instability that it has created. “Right now, two of her siblings have migrated to Canada, and we're working on citizenship for her parents here, just in case it does come to war.”

Because “family has always supported the royal family, if there's a revolution in Jordan, people like (her parents) will be targeted,” he said.

“I don't know … it's really going to be a mess.”