When Private Ryan is shamed by quiet heroes in the Syrian Arab Army

Vanessa Beeley
Vanessa Beeley is an independent investigative journalist and photographer. She is associate editor at 21st Century Wire.
When Private Ryan is shamed by quiet heroes in the Syrian Arab Army
Stories of wartime heroism abound in Hollywood movie history, the gung-ho, swashbuckling images that saturate our cinema screens promote US military personnel to cult figures, ‘saving the world’.

It is the victory of fantasy over realism that distances the American public from the horrors of war.

Wars that are never on US soil but waged in distant lands, but always in the “interests of national security”. Consent is manufactured for these wars by fabricating fear and insecurity, the amplification of terrorism threats as the ever-present danger menacing the American people, held at bay by military intervention at an imagined ‘source’.

“US airstrikes on Syria were in the "vital national security and foreign policy interests" of the United States” President Trump  told Congress, after the tripartite alliance of US, France and UK had unlawfully attacked Syria. An attack carried out under the pretext of a trumped-up charge of chemical attacks by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the last moments of Douma’s liberation from Saudi-financed and UK-promoted extremists, Jaysh al-Islam.

Cinema is escapism and Hollywood excels in distracting a public already bamboozled by a corporate media’s expert distortion of fact to generate the narratives that instil fear and dehumanize the latest foe in the foreign policy crosshairs.

In Saving Private Ryan, the horror of battle is surround-sound deafeningly conveyed. Unremitting reality confronts our sensibility, the scream of bullets tearing into flesh, the clamour of the dying; nothing is left to the imagination. It is full frontal war.

In the movie, a detail of American soldiers is dispatched to France to bring Private Ryan home to his mother after General Marshall learns that his three brothers were killed in action. We are led to believe that the assuaging of Mama Ryan’s grief is of paramount national importance. It is an all-American feel-good-factor movie with the familiar “true grit”, the hard-bitten courage of ‘real men’ fighting to save the world and their own souls. As the movie’s tagline informs us: “In the last great invasion of the last great war, the greatest challenge for eight men... was saving one.”

As US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, said recently, when trying to explain away the wholesale devastation in Raqqa following a sustained bombing campaign by the US-led coalition – “we are the good guys and the innocent people on the battlefield know the difference” – I doubt the “innocent people” who were deliberately targeted by the coalition “precision” bombs would agree. The proclaimed war on terror, in this case Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), invariably results in the massacre of innocent people whose mangled remains are dismissed as “collateral damage” in another US campaign that protects “national security”.

A campaign fought illegally in the skies above or on the ground of a sovereign nation that has never presented a threat to US security. Syria has effectively been defending US and European “national security” for seven long and tortuous years. The hordes of extremists under a variety of monikers are armed, financed and equipped by our governments and their allies in the Gulf States, to enable regime change in Syria, but you would never know it from the rhetoric they use to drown out their responsibility.

Syria is stemming the terrorist tide within its territory and the SAA is fighting and dying to contain the threat. Alongside its allies, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah – Syria is sacrificing everything to prevent the spread of a cataclysmic contagion that has been created and imposed upon them by the nations whose claims of moral superiority ring hollow when confronted by the bloodshed they leave in their wake.

The SAA is dehumanized and criminalised by media in the West, it is reduced to ‘Assad’s army”, a ‘Shia militia – portrayed as a ‘murderous squad of sectarian thugs’. Nothing could be further from the truth, in my experience. I have met with many families of martyred soldiers who have given their lives to defend their homeland, their people, their honour and their way of life. They fight because “a fallen building can be rebuilt, but a fallen homeland is lost forever.”

There are thousands of ‘Mama Ryans’ in Syria, brave, fearless women who have suffered indescribable loss but who remain steadfast, proud of their children’s role in protecting their future. Om Al Fouz from Taldara, close to Salamiyah, has lost five sons in the genuine “war on terror”.   

“When I lost the first one, I felt as if I had broken my back, I lost the second one only fifteen days later – I thought my heart had broken. Then the third, the fourth, the fifth, each time I grew stronger”. 

Om Al Fouz also told me: “I have 25 grandsons, I am ready to give all my children for this battle. We are all ready to be martyred, this is our country, our dignity, our honour, our morals. We will never leave this country to anyone else”.

I met Hala in January 2018 in Salamiyah. Hala is a beautiful young girl whose husband was killed fighting with the SAA to defend her hometown and her country. Like so many families in Salamiyah, Hala expressed great pride her husband’s martyrdom but the sadness in her eyes told me she has lost her love and the father of her child.

Her husband, Fadi Afif al-Qasir, was killed defending Western Salamiyah from Nusra Front. He was 31 years old. Hala proudly showed me their wedding photographs, a stunning young couple just beginning their married life with so many hopes and dreams.

Hala told me: “When they called him to serve the homeland, he left immediately so he could defend his land, to defend his land, to defend his values......so that Syria's voice could reach all of the countries, so that peace for Syria could prevail, so that peace would not only happen for us, so peace would be for all countries. What is entering here that we are fighting against, it is going to go outside of Syria, and if it went outside of Syria it is going to destroy all the people. So, my husband, Fadi Afif al-Qasir he offered his soul, he offered his heart, he offered his blood, to redeem the homeland”.

I also met Hannah Al Ayek and her family early in 2018 in Salamiyah. Her son, Saed Nizar, was not even 22-years-old when he was killed. Saed had been a helicopter engineer with the Syrian Arab Air Force. He was killed on 22 January 2013.  He was on board a helicopter ferrying supplies into the base when it was brought down by a Free Syrian Army TOW missile, according to his family.

 Hannah said to me: “Your coming here and talking to me about my son gives us strength. We beg you to take our voices as far as you can. My son and all our Martyrs have sacrificed themselves for the world, not just for Syria. Maybe they don’t all have the same face, but they do have the same soul.”

Every family I met with and interviewed made similar statements. Ahmed Jabr lost his 23-year-old son, Mohammed, on the 4 March 2013, fighting with the SAA against IS in Qaryatayn. 

Ahmed told me: “We have a great army and we represent the army. The army represents us and they have sacrificed so much but thank God we have the victory on our side. They brought every foreign terrorist in the universe to our country. It is the Western countries bringing us this terrorism. Thank God we stand by our Army as one hand. Our Army defends the whole Arab world and the World from this terrorism because it will spread from Syria to the World.” 

The SAA is made up of conscripts. In many cases ordinary young men and women have taken up arms to defend their people, as in Salamiyah surrounded on four sides by IS, Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and a variety of extremist splinter groups. These soldiers are often inexperienced in military strategy and combat. They are facing a professional force of battle-hardened mercenaries, well equipped with more sophisticated weapons and machinery thanks to their sponsors in the West and Gulf States.

We in the West owe an infinite debt of gratitude to these young men and women who have resisted the terrorist spawn of our own imperialist nations. There will be no ‘Private Ryan’ films depicting their courage and bloodshed. There will be no commemorative statues erected in Washington or London in honour of their sacrifices. There will be no recognition of their unity, no acknowledgement of their dignity in Western media.

It falls upon us, the people, to salute these heroes, these defenders of humanity who have given their lives to prevent us living their torment. This is not some romantic vision of a world of complex nuances and multi-faceted truths, it is the realistic admission that without the SAA, we would be awash with extremism from the Euphrates to the Thames. Far from the din and cacophony of Hollywood generated conflict, these soldiers are the quiet heroes who have undeniably earned “the right to go home”.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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