The assumed response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons raises an obvious question: Where do we draw the line in warfare?
Following World War I and World War II, the world came together at the Geneva Conventions which banned the use of chemical weapons and torture. They also provided for the humane treatment of prisoners of war. The Geneva Conventions did not, however, ban nuclear weapons (the US is still the only nation to use them). They did not ban carpet bombing of cities. They did not prohibit incendiaries that can level cities in a firestorm. They did not ban attacks on food supplies and infrastructure that can turn large populations of civilians into starving refugees. In fact, they did not control many weapons and techniques that are now routinely used in modern warfare.
Why draw the line on one type of weapon of mass destruction while ignoring others? Are unarmed civilians any more dead from a chemical attack than from a remote-controlled bomb? Is it more painful to die from a nerve gas attack than from explosives?
Long ago, many cultures romanticized warfare and bound it by rules of honor. But, with the development of weapons of mass destruction (including automatic weapons, artillery, bombs, chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear devices) today’s warfare has become a glorified video game in which those most at risk are unarmed, innocent civilians.
How absurd that it’s okay to kill masses of people in one way, but not another! How senseless that, although some forms of torture are banned, others are not! How idiotic that we can allow despots in Rwanda and Cambodia to murder tens of thousands, but draw the line in other countries.
Truth is, there has been no real honor between warriors for centuries. No country or culture that willingly participates in warfare has a corner on ethics and morality. The development of ever more lethal weapons has turned today’s warriors into breathing, bleeding killing machines. Is it any wonder, then, that these machines we create have such difficulty adapting to so-called polite society following their service?
What has happened in Syria is awful. But why is a red line drawn at the use of chemical weapons? If we level Damascus and its population with unseen missiles and bombs, is that better than allowing them to be killed by an unseen gas? What will be the outcome of our choosing to participate in this civil war? What will be the benefit?
Personally, I see none.