September 19, 2013

Two pieces in the Sept. 15 Outlook section — Philip Kennicott’s reflections on photo images of war [“Not horrible enough”] and Sebastian Junger’s analysis of the morality of pacifism [“When force offers the best chance for peace”] — reminded how emotion can be manipulated to short-circuit reason.

During Vietnam, photographs of suffering children testified to the horror of war. But they were used to argue against U.S. intervention in an existing conflict — even though it could have been just as easily argued that non-involvement would ensure a North Vietnamese victory and the horrors that were sure to follow (and did).

Today, similar photos are being used to argue the opposite — only U.S. intervention can stop the suffering of war — even though it can be argued that aggravating war does not lead to peace. Such images are harnessed for their moral appeal. Yet from a moral standpoint, both the pacifist option and the “war means peace” option are equally suspect.

If images of suffering children arouse our outrage, perhaps some of that outrage should be directed at those who exploit the images to shock us into unthinking support of their policies, instead of reasoning our way through some very complex issues.

Andrew Sorokowski, Rockville