“Cry, the Beloved Country” is Alan Paton’s searing 1948 novel about his own country, South Africa, as it was at the time. It manifests the agony of a majority indigenous black population suffering under white man’s law.

Syria’s suffering is different, a more complex patchwork of rebellions and wars. At issue is whether Syria even is, or at least was, a coherent people and country.

Yet the fate of a viciously oppressed people is one of the archetypal themes in human civilization. The flight last year of a million Syrians to Europe (really to Germany) recalled the Biblical Exodus. The Jews went on to the Promised Land. Syrian refugees and the internally displaced want only to return Home, if they can do so in peace and safety.

Whatever conflicts—religious, ethnic, regional, and political—created this unprecedented human disaster of the new century, cry, the Beloved Country is an apt metaphor.

With the fall of Aleppo to Bashar Assad’s forces, the decisive moment is reached. The humanitarian disaster across the country is so complete that it is time now for all powers to put the Syrian population first. It’s time in particular for American policy to get out the way of Moscow’s brutal intervention, if only because it is too late to stop it. With defeat of the rebels in Aleppo and the Damascus region, Assad, with Russian help, will remain in power, at least until Vladimir Putin decides otherwise.

Because Putin doesn’t want Assad, he wants to avoid Syria becoming another Libya in Russia’s neighborhood — an ungoverned, unstable territory open to Islamist intentions. As for the rebels, at a certain point, knowing how to lose a war becomes the most important thing.

Why? Because the absolute priority at this point must be to save what can be saved of the Syrian population. The Syria that existed in 2011, bad as it was under Assad’s terrorist regime, has exploded. No other society in recent memory has been destroyed to this degree.

For the hundreds of thousands killed, it is too late. But for two groups — the internally displaced and those in exile, those Syrians still alive — a lot can be done. Not let my people go, but let my people return, at least those who want to. In any case, stop the bloodshed.

The Syrian people have suffered enough for any conceivable political purpose. The Arab Spring against Assad has failed. The outside Powers — like it or not Moscow has become the most relevant —must now discipline the Assad regime’s victory to limit reprisals and must also shut down the battlefields elsewhere in the country. First of all by finishing the destruction of the Islamic State, which is the clearest point of agreement with Washington and other governments such as Tehran, Ankara, and Baghdad, not to mention the Kurds.

The millions of Syrian refugees living in other Middle East and European countries must be helped to return to their homes if they so desire. Inside the country, the many millions more must be helped to return to their cities, towns and villages. The big powers, however they can — perhaps the U.N. Security Council can legitimize some kind of protectorate — must take control of peacemaking, prevent reprisals on all sides, and organize the rebuilding of the country, including sharing out how to pay for it.

Syrian children need to get back into school in their home country.

With the fall of Aleppo, it’s become pretty simple.