One woman listened as pro-Assad militiamen tortured her husband to death in the mosque, having turned on the muezzin's speakers so that the entire village could hear his screams. Another, from Aleppo, was told that unless her husband gave himself up for arrest, she and her daughters would be raped. He came home, and was raped and shot in front of her. The horrors of Syria are literally unthinkable.
Try to hold in your mind a picture of what I have just written and you will soon find your thoughts swerving away. The same is true of the numbers involved. Thus far, 2.3 million people have fled the country, and a further 9.3 million have been internally displaced, out of a total pre-war population of 22.5 million. A year ago, most commentators were predicting the imminent fall of Bashar al-Assad and an end to the fighting. Almost no one thinks that way now.
An entire generation of Syrian children is growing up in the surrounding countries. It is no longer a question of providing them with food and blankets; they need schools, playgrounds, clinics. I have spent the past four days in a camp on the Turkish border with a team of 50 centre-Right parliamentarians from 12 countries, brought together by the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists.
We distributed toys and clothes and built a football pitch, which we finished in time to have an inaugural game (the Syrian exiles beat the European conservatives 5-4). All of us heard stories like those I have described - and, believe me, listening to them at first hand is not the same as reading them in a newspaper. Naturally enough, our reaction was that something must be done: something big enough, decisive enough to be adequate to the tragedy. That equation is understandable, but misplaced.
Public policy should be proportionate to an achievable goal, not to how upset we feel. Of course every refugee we met wanted Western strikes against the Assad regime; it would have been bizarre if they hadn't. But it doesn't follow that Anglo-American intervention in Syria would do more good than harm. While arming the rebels, or making direct air strikes, might tip the military balance, and so hasten a ceasefire, there are drawbacks. The prolongation of the war has radicalised sections of the opposition and sucked in jihadi volunteers from elsewhere.
Arms have already leaked from the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army to fundamentalist brigades. The rule of law cannot be willed into existence. Two generations of authoritarianism wrecked civil society in Syria, and stoked sectarian tensions. I first travelled there 20 years ago, during the dictatorship of Assad's father. I remember being touched by the many small acts of kindness; as often happens in autocracies, people compensated for not being able to trust state institutions by relying on their networks of friends and families.
While this made them exceptionally generous and hospitable, it also eroded the sense of common affinity, of shared patriotism, on which democracy depends. In any case, Western intervention has a way of turning opinion against us - even in the countries that have been loudest in demanding it. The unspoken assumption, when people call for intervention, is that the United States and Britain must be part of it. Yet the neighbouring states that want military action - Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, the UAE, Qatar - have received tens of billions of dollars in US military aid.
They could deploy it proportionately - to enforce a no-fly zone, for example - without the negative repercussions that would follow from a Western intervention. Whether they do so, however, is not ours to determine. Which is really my point: there are things beyond our control, problems without solutions. While we were in the camp, we met political and military leaders from the Syrian opposition.
They were immovable on one point: there could be no prospect of a settlement without the removal of Assad and his henchmen. They didn't demand the dismantling of the entire state apparatus: Ba'athists would, they said, have a place in the new dispensation. But those around the president would have to go. I understand how they feel. They are living every day with stories like those we had heard from the refugees. How could they not want justice? How could they willingly sit down with such murderers? From Assad's perspective, though, this attitude removes any incentive to talk.
Whatever promises are made now, exile would mean a lifetime of fighting attempts to try him at The Hague. So the slaughter will carry on, Ypres-like, until one side or the other is militarily exhausted. All the while, Syria will spew entropy, spreading Shia-Sunni conflict across the region. Hundreds have already been killed in Lebanon, as rival militias target each other's mosques; the sectarian death toll in Iraq is higher than at any point since 2006. We can succour the traumatised, the maimed and the exiled. We can fund the front-line states - and the unfussy, uncomplaining way in which Turkey has taken in 600,000 people is humbling. We can nudge the factions closer.
We, meaning the UK and the West in general, are indeed doing all these things. But it is not in our power to halt this abomination. And accepting that is perhaps the hardest thing of all.
Daniel Hannan is a Telegraph blogger and Conservative MEP for South East England