There was a reason that Gary Johnson's "Aleppo moment" was such a big deal. Given the number of people who have died in Aleppo since the fighting started raging there in March 2011, you might have expected Syria to show up even more frequently than it did in campaign rhetoric. The number is astounding and difficult to comprehend — while no one has an exact figure, the U.N. estimate puts the death toll at about 400,000.
Just for a little perspective, that's just a bit higher than the populations of Tulsa and Cleveland and just a bit lower than that of Minneapolis and Miami. It's far higher than the populations of the Bahamas or Iceland. It's approximately the same number of people that the Nazis killed in the Chelmno, Majdanek, and Sobibor concentration camps combined. People wonder in retrospect why the Allies didn't step in to shut down the concentration camps once they knew of their existence, but now a similar situation has happened again.
Aleppo offers at least two concrete things to those who have remained onlookers so far: a lesson in why to pay attention to history, and a chance to step in and make a difference before it's too late.
Aleppo is no longer the gorgeous, peaceful World Heritage Site that it used to be. While Russia declared that the fighting was over on Tuesday, even the evacuation — set to happen after a deal was struck between the rebel fighter and the pro-government forces — has allegedly left around 80 civilians dead. The images coming out of Aleppo are absolutely heartbreaking and leave no questions about the fear and terrible conditions that normal citizens of this once great city are facing.
Before the war, Aleppo was the largest city in Syria. Its beautiful architecture told the stories of its rich history, and it drew tourists from all over the world for everything from its markets to its minarets. Think about the city that you call home — does it seem like there could ever be a war there? Do the buildings seem like they could ever be destroyed? Do you feel safe? The people who lived in Aleppo before 2011 certainly did, and the approximately 275,000 who have survived until this time and are now being forced to flee have now witnessed the transformation from a regional center to the bitter symbol of a violent war.
If that seems unimaginable to you, think of what it must be like for the people who are living through it. This is real, and terrible, and important to pay attention to. It's about time that we all started trying to do something about it.