The Assassin's Creed

Tens of thousands of people have so far died in the Syrian civil war. Foreign Policy has a special article describing the inventive lengths to which the combatants have gone to kill the other. Here we see the Syrian Army’s vaunted “barrel bomb”.


Not to be outdone, let us view the power of the rebel improvised mortar.

It is probably fair to say that the accuracy of these devices leaves something to be desired. Whether these weapons actually hit a military target must be a matter of the purest luck.  Most likely their guidance system has the following microcode: “to whom it may concern”.

When the IDF struck Ahmad Jabari, head of Hamas’ military wing in a precision strike while traveling in his car “world opinion” exploded in outrage against the Israelis. Here was the murderous Zionist regime striking at an individual target. Assassination! Barbarity! Atrocity!

It might be asked why this act should be any more or less horrible than the operation of the Syrian “barrel bomb” or the rebel mortar. After all the victims, whoever they may be, are as dead from the one as from the other.

But the meaning of their death — the political content of their demise — varies from one to the other. This fact did not escape Dominic Tierney, a professor at Swarthmore College, who wrote in the Atlantic about how there appeared to be a right and a wrong way to die. And he is genuinely perplexed.

The United States announced that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a “red line,” potentially triggering intervention. … Oddly, the international community seems less concerned by how many people the Syrian regime kills than by the methods it uses to kill them.

The rule of murdering your population is: Don’t use chemical weapons. We often draw a sharp distinction between “civilized” conventional arms and intolerable weapons of mass destruction–or the evil triad of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Blowing your people up with high explosives is allowable, as is shooting them, or torturing them. But woe betide the Syrian regime if it even thinks about using chemical weapons!

A woman and her child under fire in Aleppo might miss this distinction. It’s not obvious that high explosives are inherently less evil than chemical weapons. …

The combination of buttons that unlocks international interest in a humanitarian crisis can seem arbitrary. Killing with conventional weapons in Africa? Sorry, that’s old news. Using chemical weapons or concentration camps in the Middle East? Now you’ve got my attention.


Let me try and offer a theory to resolve his dilemma. Deaths are not equivalent. They vary one from the other not by the value of the life that was cut short but by column inches of copy they generate. The principal metric of the tragedy of a modern death is its news value. If the death serves a narrative it is tragic. If not, who gives a damn?

Here is how it works.

Black Africans killing black Africans with machetes has no news value. White Europeans killing black Africans with machetes has a big news value. Anyone killing anyone with bladed weapons generally has little news value. Anyone killing anyone with a handgun has front page news value, especially where the Second Amendment is concerned. Arabs killing Arabs is page 10 news. A Jew killing anyone is the headline story.

Babies dying in their millions from abortion does not even qualify as a story. The IDF killing a stone killer from Hamas  is a horror of unimaginable international proportions. Arabs rocketing Israelis is not even reported. Israelis shooting back — well how dare they.

The sight of Americans jumping in terror from the burning World Trade Center is something to be forgotten. We need to “move on”. The men who hijacked the airplanes to plunge them into those towers — now that calls for a mosque on ground zero!

You may be starting to get the drift.

No death is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the narrative,
A part of a tweet.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Darwin is served.
As well as if a plain man died
Of a heart attack in a frame house of his own
Or if thy friend were.
Each man’s death varies from the other,
As set out in the talking points.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls as told.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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