Chemical weapons can't be tolerated

As the U.S. gears up for a decision on military action in Syria, it's worthwhile to stand back and see how we got to where we are.

Syria, of course, is a fairly recent creation, having spent hundreds of years as a province of the

Ottoman Empire based in modern-day Turkey. When that empire was dismantled after the First World War, France claimed Syria as part of its spoils. Great Britain, which already held Egypt, also claimed great swaths of the region once held by the Ottoman Empire.

So it's not surprising they both have a continued interest in what happens there. To this day, France intervenes in crises taking place in its former African colonies, and no doubt feels an enduring connection with Syria.

The First World War also saw European nations inflict casualties on one another to an almost unimaginable scale. Perhaps the worst weapon in their arsenal was mustard gas - so named for its colour and odour.

The horrible deaths from this chemical were one of the driving forces behind a 1993 convention that bans the use of chemical weapons.

And so these threads of history converge on Syria, as the world grapples with a way to respond to reports of chemical weapons being used by that nation's government on civilians in Damascus.

If true, there must be a response of some kind. Military action seems the most obvious answer since President Bashar Assad seems impervious to diplomatic approaches.

Still, it's hard to forget the ramp-up to the war in Iraq where we were told repeatedly about weapons of mass destruction. Whether a mistake or a lie, the weapons were never found.

We can only hope that in the fog of war that we are not being lied to again, and that chemical weapons are not being used as a smokescreen for some hidden objective.

If chemical weapons are being used, then the practice must be checked. In many ways we have become inured to all kinds of appalling violence toward our fellow human beings. We can't let it happen again.

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