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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Just one death

Hey, James Foley was just one guy, so everybody calm down. I mean, let's not start a war over one little beheading:

The United States should not be allowing ISIS propaganda and the murder of one American to dictate its foreign policy strategy in the Middle East.

As the first reconnaissance drones cross the Syrian border, the United States is moving into open conflict with ISIS on its home turf. The U.S. was already increasing military engagement with the group and, given the fanatical aims of ISIS, war may have been inevitable from the start, but it is troubling that the filmed murder of an American hostage is what galvanized action.

There are more American hostages held by ISIS and the government should do everything within its power to secure their release. But if they are killed it will likely be to exploit their suffering to influence public opinion in America. Knowing that, we should not let their deaths set the course for U.S. policy.

[. . .]

Every war, even those reluctantly entered, may need some passion-provoking incident to force action. But Foley’s death came after some 190,000 people had been slaughtered in Syria’s civil war, a killing floor on which ISIS rose. And it came after the group’s long history of eagerly massacring civilians in Iraq. The killing of James Foley was sickening but it didn’t reveal anything new about ISIS’s power or brutality, it only tested the group’s ability to provoke a reaction.

I get his points that we shouldn't let ISIS goad us into a confrontation they want and that our polcy toward them needs to be based on a hard look at the threat they pose and what it would cost to do something about it, not on one incident, however awful. But he's missing an obvious point, too. He almost seems to get it when he says that "every war . . . may need some passion-provoking incident to provoke action," but then he veers away from it with "The killing of James Foley . . . didn't reveal anything new about ISIS's power or brutality."

No, it revealed nothing new. But it showed clearly the "power and brutality" of ISIS for those who hadn't been paying attention. Hey, folks, this is evil, it said, wake up and smell the blood. It was Stalin who said the death of a single individual is a tragedy, but the death of a million is a statistic. He meant by that to dismiss the significance of all the deaths he caused, including that of 20 million Russians in labor camps. But he touched on a larger truth, too (even a mruderous psychopath can stumble across the truth occasionally). We can't grasp "a million deaths." It's just a number.  But a single death is something we can fathom. We can't grieve for every person killed in automobile accidents each year. But when it's somebody we know, it's a tragedy that affects us deeply.

If we do escalate against ISIS (doubtful with this administration), it won't be because of the death of James Foley. It will be because the death of James Foley made the nature of the enemy clear.