Dying Syrian Children Prompt Our Purifying Worship of War

The suffocating suffering of children is difficult to watch, the young yellow pallor of quivering chemical death. Still and other-worldly, their paralyzed expressions of death are a judgement upon our plain stupidity.As the better of our kind ministered futile mercy in their last moments, those small children died brutally and slowly, on our phones and televisions in between our pornography and sitcoms. Dead and bitter sacraments of a simple bitter question. Why?It's that we saw them die that makes all the difference, not that we seriously care about the innocent or about children. It's that their death was mediated by screens; that's how our empathy is solicited these days. It's the only way we seem to care. Our president, just like us, was moved by these grotesque pathetic images, and he did what so many of us would have done.Tomahawk missiles: targeted, lethal and soothing, they calm our rage.Now I understand the vital impulse of perfect hatred and moral violence, especially given the visible death of these children. As both parents and the plainly morally human will feel, there is a rage that comes upon us like inspiration whenever we're faced so viscerally with evils our natures naturally despise. Such anger and its attending violence is simple, almost beautiful, almost angelic in its performance.Tomahawk missiles: targeted, lethal and soothing, like purifying worship. Maybe it is.But it's a false allure, our violence. Witnessed in our modern conflicts are not the hallowed theories and traditions of justified war, but rather catharsis. Missiles, much like tweets, can make us feel better, give us that satisfied sense of getting in the last word. Such is what our violence is these days, mere expression. It's our true jus ad bellum.Now I don't know what's right here, and I don't pretend to. Who knows if these strikes were successful, militarily or otherwise? Who knows whether we've correctly calculated the realpolitik of it, the counterplay of Russia or Iran or any one of hundreds of anonymous self-made terrorists? Who knows?And I don't want to criticize President Donald Trump just yet. He, like me, was undoubtedly horrified by what he saw, and he did something about it. Honestly, I'm no better than he is. I too felt, and even still feel, the inspiration and chimera of righteous rage, the bitter resolve to consecrate myself with perfect hatred. I too was soothed by that purifying worship, those 59 tomahawk missiles, targeted and lethal. I will not fake moral superiority here.Yet my warning, my worry, is that we will fall again for the lie of violence. I fear we'll again fall for the lie of efficiency, the lie of collateral damage, the lie of power and limited causalities. I understand the seductions of supposedly moral violence (I am not a pacifist); I understand the ethical hatred of evil. Yet I am still afraid that our violence will do no good, that it will return upon us, and with that wicked irony which is the wreckage of so much our bloody human history.And that more children will die, maybe ours.Joshua J. Whitfield is pastoral administrator for St. Rita Catholic Community in Dallas and a frequent columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Email: jwhitfield@stritaparish.net Got an opinion on this column? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.  Continue reading...

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