Death is unthinking and indiscriminate. It takes people regardless of their age, race or nationality. Why, then, do we count some deaths more than others?
A dozen people told me I shouldn’t write this column. They told me that readers would take it the wrong way in light of the Boston Marathon bombing, that I would be seen as callous and insensitive.
Well, I decided to write it anyway because this issue is important, and it is most certainly deserving of our moral introspection. In the face of a grave issue brought ever closer to our lives by the savagery of violent tragedy, it is incumbent upon us to question our assumptions.
As Americans, we rightfully mourn the passing of those lost to the senseless, soulless violence of the Boston Marathon bombing, the Aurora movie theater and Sandy Hook shootings and other unfeeling exhibitions of inhumanity. The well of our sadness justly knows no end, and there can be no doubt that we are all individually affected by these inexplicable, national cataclysms.
I must ask a question. I ask it not, by any means, to diminish the memory of those who have perished on American soil or to suggest that we mourn any less for the untimely passing of the victims of the brutishness that has characterized these recent tragedies.
I ask this question because it is, in a deeply moral sense, worth thinking about: What of the deaths that occur halfway around the world?
What of the deaths that we can stop? What of the deaths that we indirectly cause?
My conclusion: An innocent life is worth just as much as any other innocent life, whether it’s my own, an American’s, an Italian’s, a Saudi Arabian’s or a Pakistani’s.
Between 411 and 884 civilians were reported killed by American drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 to 2013, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The Bureau estimates that between 168 and 197 of those killed were children.
Why do we seem to care less about these deaths or those that have occurred in the Syrian civil war, for example? It is somehow easier for us to ignore slaughters when they occur in far-off lands to foreign people.
For millennia, we have divided ourselves by myriad trivialities — finding it easiest to sort ourselves into foolish little boxes.
The truth is that real life quickly gets in the way of this trite taxonomy. When terror strikes and death rings out mercilessly and indiscriminately in the streets, we all bleed the same color.
To those who harp on the artificial edifice of nationality as a justification for this disparate treatment: I can imagine a child in some war-torn area besieged by bombs dropped by planes emblazoned with our flag speaking as Shakespeare’s Shylock did in “The Merchant of Venice”: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”
To those who turn to our geographic separateness as a way to explain away the disparate treatment: Modern technology and media render obsolete the idea that we are somehow entitled to care only about those within earshot or within the reach of our cars.
It is understandable that the pain of nearby death hurts more because the murders seem to transpire right before our eyes. But humanity is united by so much more than our birthplaces, which have no moral significance. We all know people who have been affected by American tragedies, but this is not reason to overlook foreign deaths — it is reason to work harder to remain cognizant of the misery endured overseas.
Surely we are not to believe that national borders, the artificiality and arbitrariness of which cannot be overstated, somehow draw boundaries also around the limits of our compassion and humanity.
The fact is that we don’t have a limited capacity to mourn. Our grief for some innocent victims does not shrink because we add more names to the list of those whose lives we honor and whose early departures we sorrowfully lament. All human life deserves the same respect, and we ought to afford it no less than that.
Jeffrey Nadel is a College sophomore from Boca Raton, Fla. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @theseends. “Give Me Liberty” appears every other Friday.Comments powered by Disqus
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