The end of the siege of Aleppo came with fury and fanfare. The city’s fall—or liberation, depending on your politics—much like the entirety of its four years of unceasing war, was brutal.
Cluster bombs, the murder of civilians, the targeting of schools and health clinics, millions displaced, thousands dead and thousands more maimed. The art of war in Aleppo was harsh and minimalist. Steel, gas, blood, rage.
It was the frontline of the war in Syria—of all the world’s wars—for the last two years. Eastern Aleppo was fully besieged for the last ten months. It suffered the indiscriminate bloodbath of nightly air raids for the last four.
All of that is why the West can stop pretending to be shocked about the gross catastrophe of the Aleppian fall.
Astonishment now is disingenuous. We wear it to make ourselves feel better, but we have no right to act astonished.
The death of East Aleppo was not sudden. There was nothing surprising about it. The tactics were no more atrocious than what we have seen for years. The timing and swiftness of the regime’s hand was not exactly public knowledge, but it was also inevitable. The execution of citizens, the rape of women, the capture and murder of children—such crimes are not new. We have watched them for months in Syria, years.
What the world has witnessed in the last few years in Aleppo is a cloud of sharks circling, a ring of predators nibbling at a swarm. The water was filthy with blood already. Now that the sharks have gone full primal, swallowed the school whole and sunk all their teeth into the squirming center, we cannot act as though we did not see this coming.
This is what sharks do. It’s what they’ve always done.
What is more, they told us this is what they were going to do.
We watched them do it. On our hyper-sanitized television screens. In our Western-narrative newspapers. Through the narrow slit of our own personal Twitterverse.
We knew all along. And if we didn’t, shame on us, because the knowledge was there to be known—we simply ignored it or couldn’t accept the imminent peril.
Go ahead and be sad. Mourn with those who mourn. Post the articles that announce the desperate, despairing farewells of East Aleppo’s holdouts. Pass along the casualty counts, stories of unspeakable atrocity, the prayers—and pray them. But if we think Aleppo is ongoing, it’s not. It’s too late. It’s over.
And after we remember what we should never have forgotten, pass along this little wake-up call. We have no right and no reason to be surprised. If we as a nation or as individuals had planned to do more, why didn’t we?
No posting “Aleppo is falling” articles. No posting “8 ways to help Aleppo.” It’s insincere because there was a deadline and now it’s passed. Aleppo is not falling; it fell.
As a society we have looked on for years. We were not blind. The information, the war crimes, the horror was right in front of us. And still we looked, occasionally pausing to slacktivate our StandWithAleppo hashtags. It’s all well-and-good, so why now act like the last four years of Aleppian politics of the sword did not happen?
It didn’t take a crystal ball to see this destruction, this metrocide. All it took was acknowledgement of the plain facts. The truth was ugly, but it never was very good at hiding in Aleppo. The blood was too much to drain.
And now it’s in the streets. And in our eyes. Don’t look away. Look at the ruins and weep for the city we watched die.