Our screens have been filled with images coming from the Syrian Civil War and the fighting in Iraq against Daesh, but without much perspective.
Aleppo is under siege by opposing sides in Syria. The suffering of the inhabitants is immense. However this is, in fact, normal. Sieges have been the preferred way to capture cities and towns since these conurbations came into existence.
One of the driving forces for towns and cities to exist was their defensibility. The phrase ‘forlorn hope’ originally described the body of soldiers who were promised great rewards to be the first to breach a town’s defences as this was the only way to get troops to attack a town at all. Such troops were not expected to survive.
Armies will assault a city or town only if it is absolutely necessary or if they have been given ridiculous orders to do so. This is even more so since the development of man-portable weapons like mortars, machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades and guided missiles that allow a small number of semi-trained combatants to delay hundreds of well-equipped attackers even if they are backed up by tanks and air-support.
Brussels, Paris, Rome, Florence, Athens and Belgrade were all declared open cities by their defenders in the Second World War to avoid bloodshed and destruction. However this was not the norm.
Caen was attacked by Montgomery in June 1944 as part of holding German Panzer formations while the US Army formed on his right flank and executed a sickle-cut around the Wehrmacht, trapping them in a ‘pocket’, from which they could only escape through the slaughter of the Falaise Gap. Victory in Normandy liberated France. Montgomery had expected Caen to fall on D-Day. It fell two months later. Thousands of civilians died. The city was destroyed.
Stalingrad was assaulted by the Germans as the key to the Caucasus’ oilfields, but mainly for symbolic reasons. Locked into the fighting by orders from their insane leader, the German Sixth Army was enveloped by Soviet forces capable of manoeuvre on the outskirts. Cut off from supplies in the middle of a Russian winter, the army surrendered as it ceased to function. The lesson learned from Stalingrad was that mechanised armies cannot win in large cities as all the advantages of movement and concentration are lost.
Leningrad endured a siege from 1941 for about 900 days, during which a million civilians died. However it was supplied during that time by Soviet forces and the prospect of liberation was always there.
While Berlin was not a strategic target in 1945, it had as much totemic value for the Soviet forces as Stalingrad had for the Germans. The fighting was as bitter. The casualties were immense. The preposterously low standard of German governance meant that peace could only come to Europe when Soviet forces were one hundred metres away from the bunker containing Germany’s leader.
The modern Western viewer is faced with the challenges of wartime misinformation, missing analysis and is bombarded by distressing images. All the technology available to project news reports into the living-room is irrelevant if the news is false, over-sensationalised and context is not explained.
There is no way that the people of Aleppo can defeat the forces ranged against them. It is not clear why the inhabitants do not surrender to Assad’s forces other than that they fear slaughter. Aleppo is not Leningrad. The siege is not going to be lifted. Civilian lives should be saved by capitulation.
It seems likely that Mosul will also be besieged as an alternative to sanguinary house-to-house fighting. It is five to ten times the size of Fallujah, which was liberated in just over one month by Iraqi national forces earlier this year, so this may prevent similar action, although the same methods are apparently being employed.
What can we in the West do, apart from watch newsworthy but increasingly disturbing images coming from never-ending sieges and battles? Western military action may only ramp up if there is another major outrage in Europe and probably not before.
There seems to be a need to do more than avert our gaze, but taking in young men pretending to be children is just trash symbolism and destroys public sympathy. Syrian refugees deserve money from our foreign aid budget and help to rebuild their lives near where they used to live. People campaigning for refugees to live here seem to expect people other than themselves to do the heavy lifting. How noble of them.
What should not happen is that the endless distressing images are used as a reason for Labour, as part of their slavish devotion to open-door immigration, to attack the Government. The ‘Dubs Amendment’ has unravelled because of the cynical abuse of our hospitality.
Months ago, Yvette Cooper promised part of her home to Syrian refugees. As of today, the only exotic sight in the Cooper household is her husband practising his dancing.
(Image: Freedom House)