5 Global Crises That Show How Barbaric the World Is Despite Our Notions of Progress

The skin of the supposedly civilized world is showing itself to be thinner than many people would have thought, as violence across the globe—often worsened by our political leaders—is boiling over in ways that question whether government can contain humanity's darkest deeds.

The yardstick to measure today's explosions in needless violence and pain is World War II, where, after the Nazi genocide against Jews and other "undesirables," the Western world supposedly took steps to make sure that level of barbarity would never take place again.

Well, it has, not that the lessons of WWII prevented the Korean War, Vietnam War, or other conflagrations. And it's made all the more vivid by the Internet—as people look on, horrified, the warmongers and bullies are shaping events more than the voices demanding restraint and drawing moral lines that will not be crossed. Consider these five examples.

1. The disproportionate force and bloodshed in Gaza. Albert Camus, the French journalist-turned-philosopher who fought in the Nazi resistance, wrote a series of anti-war essays after WWII dealing with the problem of killing. Its title, Neither Victims Nor Executioners, is precisely the credo Israel has failed to live up to in the current war in Gaza. Hamas' hands aren't clean either, but any fair assessment finds Israel inflicting far more terrible blows.

U.S. mainstream media justifies Israel’s attacks, citing Hamas rockets into Israel, secret tunnels used by Hamas’ military and weapon caches in civilian areas. Meanwhile, there’s been little notice in American media of Israel's ongoing collective punishment of the Palestinians, when there's not a war on. That policy, in Gaza and the West Bank, fuels the cycles of generational violence.

The whole picture is barbaric. Boys seeking refuge on a beach, families in U.N. shelters, hospital patients are killed by Israeli artillery. Meanwhile, up the coast, life goes on in Tel Aviv, where a one-day shutdown of U.S. air flights is seen as an affront, giving Hamas a public relations victory. But in Gaza, as young adults recount on Twitter, they keep hearing drones fly by and then wait for the bombs to land. And they do, with terrible consequences.  

How is anything that’s unfolding here going to lead both sides to disarm and reject war?

2. The missile downing of a Malaysian jet over Ukraine. Eastern Europe has seen bloodbaths through the centuries and the aftermath of the shoot-down, by Russian missiles—no matter who fired them—is not even the worst of it. The political blame-game raises all kinds of big-picture questions, but let’s not get lost in geopolitical chess games. Innocent people were murdered in the sky and then left rotting in fields, while their clothes and bags were picked over by so-called rebels and scavengers. Their bodies were loaded into trains, which sat for days in fly-infested yards, recalling the Nazi transports of prisoners in WWII. American and European officials dithered, doing little to treat the dead with dignity.

Meanwhile, the simmering war continues, with Russia on one side and an American-backed Ukrainian regime on the other. There’s little evidence any of these political leaders have come to their senses, ensuring that more death will come. 

3. Central American children massing on the U.S. border. This is another crisis that resurrects imagery from the hell of World War II, the so-called kinder transports, where Jewish parents in Germany and Austria could send one of their children away by train to exile and safety in England. That terrible choice, splitting up a family as a matter of life and death, is being repeated today in Central America as families send mostly adolescent children to the U.S. border, hoping their chosen child will be smuggled in.

American policymakers, but especially House Republicans, have been truly cold-hearted in their responses. There's marginal sympathy for the kids crossing the border, and no sympathy whatsoever for their parents' unimaginable choice. The denial doesn’t stop there. Even the establishment-defending Washington Post has noted that the child migrant crisis is a direct result of the failed U.S. war on drugs. 

The response to the still-growing child refugee crisis on the Mexican border is appalling. American policymakers are victimizing these already traumatized kids and doubly demonizing their parents, not understanding that they are forced into one of the most heart-breaking choices they will ever face. 

(Editor's note: On Friday, the New York Times reported the Obama administration was considering issuing 1,750 visas to Honduran children, Senate Republicans introduced a bill increasing refugee visas from three countries by 5,000 each. But since last fall, more than 16,500 children have fled from Honduras alone.)

4. Attacks on women and others in ISIS-occupied Iraq. The armed takeover of west-central Iraq by ISIS has become last month’s news. But as ISIS installs its version of an Islamic caliphate, or fundamentalist religious government, over its conquered territory, the victims of its barbarism are also receding from view.

It's hard to know what to believe in Western media accounts that sensationalize "enemy" crimes and ignore our government's role in creating these crises. On NPR's Fresh Air on Thursday, Human Rights Watch's Letta Taylor compared the targeting, round ups and expulsion of Christians to the way Nazi Germany treated Jews in the 1930s. She said that ISIS has conducted sweeps for ex-Iraqi soldiers and government workers and executed hundreds; but she also said the Iraqi government also has launched mass killings.

There have been many press reports that under ISIS women have to follow strict Islamic law. The U.K. Guardian reports that women around Mosul also may be facing a fatwa, or religious order, to undergo female genital cutting. They hedge a bit, saying social media reports speculate that fatwa could be from an earlier incarnation of ISIS. But there’s little doubt that under ISIS, women are seeing their lives shrink under the veil, enduring forced marriages, work restrictions and possibly genital mutilation.

5. The failure of governments to stop the bleeding. Is it naïve to demand that governments and political leaders who have a hand in creating these crises change their tune and stop the warfare, murder, violence, repression and indifference? It's stunning, really, to consider that the same political leaders who are driving these conflicts or allowing them to grow are also in charge of ending them.

But that's the reality of governments today—and maybe power brokers in any era. One wonders what terrible prices have to be paid before all this barbarity and evil can be staunched.

Senior U.S. and Israeli diplomats express frustration that Hamas isn’t accepting their cease fire—but Hamas was never a part of negotiating that offer with the U.S. and Egypt. It seemed intended to fail, to give Israel cover for its invasion. Hamas tunnels into Israel aren’t a new threat, either, honest Israelis will tell you, just newly reported in mainstream U.S. media to justify the latest war.

And on and on it goes. There’s the botched U.S. diplomacy and covert meddling in Ukraine, which is matched by Russia’s actions. The same out-of-control cycle spins again in Iraq. It's spinning at the Mexican border, where tens of thousands of children wait, praying that politicians, who don’t want them and don’t want to understand them, will let them stay.

As the 21st century unfolds, the skin of Western civilization is far thinner than many people would like to think. And so are the ranks of the politically powerful who would be willing to stand up for Camus' anti-war credo, that people and institutions should become neither victims nor executioners.  

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