Last week at an MSBNC town hall, Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. president, Gary Johnson, and his running mate were asked to name one of their favorite world leaders. Unable to answer even after being prompted several times, Johnson humorously replied that he was having another “Aleppo moment,” referring to a previous (and tremendous) gaffe he made when he responded “What is Aleppo?” after being asked about the situation in the Syrian city.
Following this latest exchange, the hashtag #AleppoMoment quickly began trending on Twitter, poking fun both at Johnson’s cluelessness as well as his unsuitability for the role of president. Some tweets took things a bit further, suggesting that an “Aleppo moment” might now be a way of describing naïveté or cluelessness about something. It was almost, as if, the brutal siege and systematic bombing campaign happening in the city and engineered by a ruthless regime and its allies had become secondary or insignificant.
The unfortunate reality of it all is that Johnson’s “moment” was what led Aleppo to make it into the news headlines, for the first time in a long while. This disturbing reality is, however, an opportunity to refocus the conversation on what an “Aleppo Moment” should actually mean, and remind the world of the crisis facing the city’s civilians, as well as the painful reality of global indifference.
Rather than a euphemism for forgetfulness, an “Aleppo Moment” is hundreds of thousands of civilians cut off from the rest of the world by a brutal military siege exacted by a regime that uses scorched-earth policies to defeat its enemies.
An “Aleppo Moment” is a UN aid convoy carrying food, medicine, and vital supplies for approximately 80,000 besieged civilians that is bombed relentlessly for hours.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the dwindling number of doctors (thirty-five, at the moment of this writing) serving a population of over 275,000 civilians who have witnessed death countless times.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the doctor forced to carry out brain surgery on a hospital floor with improvised equipment because there are no supplies or beds left.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the hospital patients waiting for other patients to die so they can be transferred to the intensive care unit.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the Russian military attacking thunderously from the skies, seas, and ground with a tenacity unseen since World War II and a ferocity last witnessed in the Russian onslaught on Grozny, the Chechen capital, in 1999-2000.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the ferocious showering of barrel bombs, cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, and bunker-buster bombs – designed to target military infrastructure – obliterating schools and underground hospitals.
An “Aleppo Moment” is 338 people being killed in the span of one week of this campaign, with over 100 victims being children.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the whole world witnessing live videos of this apocalyptic theater of destruction – the wailing cries, desperate pleas, and calls for help from men, women, and children – and responding with nothing but hollow empathy or silence.
An “Aleppo Moment” is a desperation so tremendous that the hashtag #HolocaustAleppo comes to life, in order to try and attract the world’s attention.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the haunting image of a mother found frozen under the rubble of a destroyed building, holding her infant in her arms – and the thousands of images like it.
An “Aleppo Moment” is Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old boy who survived an airstrike, with his body covered in debris and his face half covered in blood, devoid of emotions – and the tens of thousands of children like him, dead and alive, who have grown up knowing nothing but this devastating war.
An “Aleppo Moment” is Syrian children finding brief relief from the earsplitting sounds of “earthquake bombs” by swimming in water-filled craters created by relentless bombing.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the unabated and deliberate destruction of one of the world’s oldest and continually inhabited cities, a cradle of civilization. An “Aleppo Moment” is the unbridled brutality of a regime exercising every conceivable act of violence – from mass imprisonment, to methodical torture, to chemical gassing – on a systematic scale; it is the enduring reminder of humanity’s unforgivable betrayal of the adage “never again;” it is the bottomless reserve of indifference to a slaughterhouse from hell; it is the permanent stain on the international community’s collective failure to uphold fundamental values of humanity; it is the blistering indictment of world leaders guilty of perpetuating a city’s destruction while falsely claiming to protect it.
An “Aleppo Moment” is the moment when humanity bears witness to unthinkable destruction and does not nothing to stop it.