what, then, should we do?

Like a lot of people, I don’t know what to believe in much of the time, let alone what to invest faith in. I do, I suppose, what many of us do, try to define myself by what I’m not, wouldn’t do, disagree with, and of course that gets worn down with time and age. Otherwise, I work off distraction – hear the new Dylan yet? – and the purely personal: will my children be ok?

There are precious few absolutes in my life, very little I can’t whip up a counter-factual to. I’m good at all all sides of the argument, even if one side is an abomination. Still, chemical weaponry is an absolute. I am unmoved by almost all news video I watch, but was horrified beyond words by this week’s pictures from Syria. It’s obvious that someone used chemical weapons. The hard question is: who?

The Assad regime is the likely pick, but from my great distance and ignorance, I’m troubled by them as the villain. Not because they wouldn’t, (they have chemical weapons, may well have used them already) but because tactically it seems stupid to do it with U.N. inspectors 15 minutes from the gas site.

On the other side is the motley assortment of opposition forces, some of whom appear to be as bad or worse than Assad in their own special ways – some are just criminals, some are fanatic Islamists, some are both. As awful as it is to entertain the thought, it strikes me as possible some of those forces would kill civilians, just to stick the chemical weapons rap on Assad.

President Obama declared the use of chemical weapons a “red line.” He said that, one suspects, thinking it very, very unlikely such weapons would be used. Now that they have been, who do we sic the drones on? And what an impotent response, to send in drones or cruise missiles. No, the only correct response – one that I assume is not possible – is for the U.S., the Soviets, the Chinese to descend like angry hornets on the country, and essentially stop Syria in its tracks, while a brutal, painstaking, personal examination of what happened takes place. And after that, well, I’m generally opposed to the death penalty, but I think I could make an exception for this. I’m willing to give up part of my humanity, (and the logical/spiritual problems it entails) in order to try to square, in some small way, this enormous horror.

A final thought: at my paranoid worst, all this feels like someone running an experiment, an experiment to see just how much we’ll tolerate. After I saw the footage earlier this week, I had the childish thought, one that I admit I nurtured, that everything should just stop, that President Obama shouldn’t talk about the price of college, that pre-season football should go away, that the mayoral debate in New York City should be cancelled. All of it. Just. Stop. Yet as childish as that is, would it not be interesting to some party somewhere to see just how great is our capacity for ignoring the horror, for it simply not registering for most people? I expected to run into people toward the end of the week who felt like me, dazed and confused. I didn’t, and I won’t, I think, which will tell someone very bad something of great value.

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