Aleppo’s Crisis Is Our Crisis: Why We Must Understand and Act

The news from Aleppo has been horrifying for far too long.  And now, we are confronted with what may be the final moments.  Not a detente, but instead the total extermination of the men, women and children — the families and the rebels, the doctors and the holdouts — who are still there.  We must confront the reality of Aleppo’s crisis through the final goodbyes being posted to social media for the world to see:

Jens Lerken, the United Nations official coordinating attempts to bring emergency relief, described what is happening in Aleppo as a “complete meltdown of humanity.”  French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayreault described

“coldblooded murders of entire families on the ground who were deemed close to the opposition; summary executions, including of women and children; people burned alive in their homes; the continuation of systematic targeting of hospitals, their staff and their patients.”

Thousands of civilians are trapped, subjected to an onslaught from Russian-backed forces. In the face of what is almost certain annihilation,

“There have been desperate messages from people trapped inside asking, ‘Where is humanity?’, ‘Where is the world?’, ‘Why is nobody helping us?'”

Echoes of an Earlier Time

I cannot help but hear the echoes of earlier times when I see and hear and read these accounts of Aleppo’s crisis.  I am drawn most strongly to a memory of one of my favorite people in the world – my grandmother. My grandmother was amazing. I miss her tremendously; I think about her at least 3 or 4 times a week, and she died four and a half years ago.

But Grandma had flaws like we all do. Flaws like the way she rationalized how she positioned herself during World War II.She might have clucked her tongue, shaken her head, and muttered “what a shame” before putting down the newspaper and going on with her day.  “We just didn’t realize how bad it was; we just didn’t know the scope of the suffering.” Grandma clung to this, because otherwise her inaction, her dispassionate consideration of the plight of thousands of Jewish people, becomes too ugly.

But that isn’t true. It is a lie, a rationalization, a back-fit justification. The truth is that the world turned away — that my Grandma turned away — from what was happening.  The reality is that there was accessibility of information and an ability to know for people like Grandma. From the U.S. Holocaust Museum:

The US press had reported on Nazi violence against Jews in Germany as early as 1933. It covered extensively the Nuremburg Law of 1935 and the expanded German anti-Semitic legislation of 1938 and 1939. The nationwide state-sponsored violence of November 9-10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht (Night of Crystal), made front page news in dallies across the US, as did Hitler’s infamous prediction, expressed to the Reichstag (German parliament) on January 30, 1939, that a new world war would mean the annihilation of the Jewish “race.” As the magnitude of anti-Jewish violence increased in 1939-1941, many American newspapers ran descriptions of German shooting operations, first in Poland and later after the invasion of the Soviet Union.

And Grandma acknowledged that she read or otherwise knew about some of the above. Her claim was that she didn’t appreciate the scale, the horror, the meaning of it all.  Her claims is that she didn’t understand.

Consumption vs. Understanding

However, understanding is a choice we make all make — whether we are going to pay attention to, reflect on, appreciate and engage with information.  Our relationship to the information around us is influenced by its accessibility and by the form and manner in which we consume it.  There can be no doubt that, in this far more technologically advanced age, we can consume information relatively easily.  But, most important, is whether we move from consumption to understanding.

We chose whether we are going to move from consumption of information to understanding, and we are morally accountable for that choice.  We chose whether we really absorb the information, whether we sit with it, think on it, examine it.  We chose whether we set aside difficult or challenging things.  We chose whether we look away.

It may seem easy to set aside this suffering with the thought that international politics is hard and remote and, anyway, we’re just ordinary citizens, with no ability to do anything.  It is easier.  But it is not morally defensible.  It is not morally defensible.

It may seem easy to set aside this suffering with the thought that international politics is hard and remote and, anyway, we’re just ordinary citizens, with no ability to do anything.  It is easier.  But it is not morally defensible.  It is not morally defensible.

We know what is happening.  We see Aleppo’s crisis far more viscerally than our ancestors were confronted with the evidence of pogroms and concentration camps.  We know what is happening Right Now.


The world is filled with suffering.  We must take on the wearing task of doing what we can.  We cannot call ourselves feminists if we ignore the suffering of others, because that brand of feminism is, to borrow Dzodan’s famous phrase, “bullshit.”

Donate to organizations closer to that suffering, so that you might help alleviate it.  This article goes into detail about six organizations for you to consider, but I’ve compiled a cheat sheet for three quick donations below:

Call out what is happening to your elected officials, so that they understand that you will hold them accountable.  These are attacks supported by Russia and it’s approach to international conflict.  If you don’t want these things done in our name in the future, let Congress and the President-Elect know where you stand.

And speak up for the refugees and the immigrants who are lucky enough to reach our shores.  Never be the one who allows fear — or formalism — compel you to call for them to be turned away like we turned away the 900 refugees on the St. Louis.


Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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