A wise man once observed that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Leading up to World War II, Germany was an evil but contained regime. Then, England and France allowed Germany to repeatedly violate its treaty obligations and international law. Among many transgressions, the Rhineland and Austria were invaded. The British and French governments agreed with Italy’s and Germany’s dictators to strip Czechoslovakia of its border regions.
All this time the United States thought distance from these events would isolate us from Europe’s coming tragedy. We believed that our distance from these events immunized us. So we stood by and watched while thinking only of ourselves.
Today we face a similar challenge. The Bashar Assad regime in Syria killed over 100,000 of its people in a sectarian conflict, and we stand idly by because it is too complicated. Ten years of war fatigue add to our reluctance.
Now we come face to face with the fact that the Syrian government has gassed over 1,000 civilians, including 400 children. Will we act to deter the repetition of these atrocities? Are we condemned to repeat history because we cannot remember the past?