The one video from Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack that everyone should watch

August 21, 2013

A video purportedly shows a young Syrian girl who'd survived a chemical weapons attack on Damascus. (YouTube)

The alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb, where opposition activists say that more than 1,000 civilians have died from exposure to an unknown toxic gas, would be the deadliest but far from the first such incident in the country's civil war. Still, there's something different about this one.

The many, many photos and videos showing the attack's apparent toll, including rooms full of dead children, can be overwhelming, of a scale and horror difficult to fully comprehend. You may have watched, or tried to watch, the video of a health worker helplessly applying a respirator to a child's gasping mouth, or of young men sprawled across the floor of a makeshift hospital. But if you can bring yourself to see only one such video, you may wish to make it this footage, posted by Syrian activists late Tuesday:

The video, allegedly taken just a few hours after the chemical weapons incident, shows a health worker attempting to comfort a young girl who'd purportedly survived the attack and is clearly in hysterics. It's not clear whether her behavior is a result of chemical exposure, as some speculate, or of simple terror. She says only, over and over, "I'm alive, I'm alive."

There's no blood or death here; this girl's experience does not reveal the extent of Tuesday's loss of life or necessarily show us the symptoms of chemical weapons exposure. What it does show is an experience much more common in Syria, of surviving. For all the people who are killing and dying in the country, it's easy to forget that most Syrians are doing neither but, like both the little girl and the health worker in this video, trying to endure the suffering around them.

Images of dead bodies and convulsing chemical weapons victims represent an important part of what's happening in Syria, but for many outside observers , they can be so shocking as to alienate. Anyone can recognize and understand a frightened child.

Update: A longer version of the video, embedded below, shows the girl identifying herself as Younma. The health worker says she's been psychologically traumatized by the death of her parents. Younma, who begs for her parents, appears at one point to be attempting to convince the health worker that she is still alive.

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Max Fisher | August 21, 2013