By Michael Nickerson
Let’s talk death. Oh relax. It’s just you and me. I promise to keep it off the record. Mum’s the word, so to speak. For it’s a touchy subject at the best of times, and these aren’t particularly the best of times. Mind you, other than nodding off with scotch in hand on a warm beach facing a beautiful sunset, it’s hard to think what times would actually be best for such a thing. But that’s neither here nor there, because death is in the news and we need to talk about it. Our very lives may be at stake!
Well actually not ours (though we should both probably go for a check-up just to be sure), but others most definitely. Men, women, and, gosh darn, children as well. Dying in droves they are, though more to the point, dying on the morning news. And let’s be candid, that doesn’t help those pancakes digest properly on the commute to work, now does it?
Specifically, I’m referring to Syrians. Now we both know they’ve been dying for years now, yet some bugger saw fit to make things a little more interesting and break out the sarin. Lovely stuff that sarin — a neurotoxin developed by the Germans in the late 1930s initially as a pesticide, then weaponized and stockpiled by NATO and the USSR as one of the many arrows in their lethal quiver of calamities. It causes convulsions, incontinence, and asphyxiation. Not the stuff generally recommended by the ‘right to die’ contingent, but certainly enough to kill some 80 plus people and injure 500 more in the town of Khan Sheikhoun last month, as well as play havoc with Donald Trump’s morning rituals.
As we know, the U.S. president likes to start his day with some aggressive early morning tweeting, followed by intensive study of Fox & Friends. But the poor devil saw footage of dead children and before you can say flip-flop, took America deeper into the fray by way of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles and a stern warning that the United States will not tolerate Syrians being killed in such a manner. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” The Donald proclaimed; something hard to argue, children of God or no.
And certainly no one is arguing that point, in public at least, for it would be a bit like discussing the merits of puppy incineration during afternoon tea. Neither politic nor particularly palatable. Instead, the arguments rage over the timing of the attack, who actually perpetrated it, who might benefit, and how to make the problem go away before indigestion becomes the norm of Western civilization.
And that brings us back to death. See, I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time buying into the idea that death by sarin somehow is worse than death by bombing, shelling, rifle fire, flame, concussion, fragmentation, dismemberment, or just good old starvation and infection. The civil war in Syria has gone on for six years now, has claimed some half million lives, displaced more than ten times that, destroyed a country and region that may never be rebuilt, and destabilized the world with its repercussions.
Yet that war and those forms of death have become background noise, accepted and abstract. Only when a small Syrian child washes up on a Mediterranean shore do we take in refugees. Only when another Syrian child chokes to death from sarin do the missiles fly and the diplomatic rhetoric shifts gear. Stick a cattle prod up our collective butts and we do indeed go moo, at least briefly.
But bet the farm and that tender side of prodded beef it won’t last. We’ll get used to it. Add it to the list of things that just happen in life. Accept it. But our lives really are at stake, perhaps not our physical ones just yet, but certainly our ethical ones. The second we consider conventional weapons a palatable way of killing people we really should pack it in. And in some ways I think we already have. The sun is setting after all. Please pass the scotch.