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

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/09/parents-arent-the-only-ones-who-care-about-suffering-children/279595/