Parents Aren't the Only Ones Who Care About Suffering Children

Clarifying an earlier item.

A little while ago I said that administration officials should stop basing the argument for intervention in Syria on videos of dead and dying children. The suffering of those children is terrible, but it does not answer the question of how America should respond -- any more than accounts of burned-alive children in John Hersey's Hiroshima answered the question of whether the United States was right to drop the atomic bomb.

A reader suggests a clarification of what I presented as "Point #4": 

If I may be so bold, I'd like to submit sub-points 4a and 4b:

  • 4a. It's time to do away with the invocation of "women and children" as a shorthand for innocent casualties of war.
  • 4b. I really wish people--including you, in your penultimate paragraph--would be more careful about suggesting that childless adults just don't quite get how tragic the death of a child is. Being a father/mother does not automatically place one's outrage, grief, or sympathy in a unique and special category. Those of us without children are quite capable of being horrified by these deaths, and parents are more than capable of indifference, sociopathy, and barbarism. 

He's right. I prefaced my argument the way I did, as a father who loved his children, in reflexive response to speeches from President Obama, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and others emphasizing that they, as parents, were particularly moved by horrors shown on the video. If I'd thought about it more carefully, I would have written the sentence this way, adding the words in bold:

"Like most people in most places, whether parents or not, I don't need reminders of the special cruelty and heartbreak of any suffering inflicted on the young." Also see Andrew Sullivan's post on this style of argument. Thanks to the reader.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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