THE MASSACRE of children is the low hanging fruit of outrage. Pictures of babies struggling for air, not understanding why halting breaths will be their last before seeing the face of God, bring easy rage. The sight of a father cradling his dying daughter with an otherworldly expression - as if he were already with her in heaven - brings us to our knees. The film of bombs crashing down upon the heads of first responders makes our own heads explode with equal potency.
There is nothing like this to make us hate our fellow, beastly, predatory humans.
And yet, even though it is an easy sort of outrage, it is a necessary one. It is necessary because if we don't feel the sharp edges of it in our guts and in our souls, we have lost that eternal part of ourselves, as Shakespeare would say. If we can look at dying children writhing in pain on the ground without feeling a homicidal sort of anger, we are moral zombies.
I wrote about that sort of anger last year, after Aleppo. I said: "The flames are engulfing its streets, the bullets are tearing through the bodies of its remaining inhabitants, the earth is groaning under the weight of its new corpses, the air is filled with the screams of its dying."
Some readers thanked me for the reminder, and some threw up their hands, writing "it's not our problem, it can't be our problem, we have our own heavy burdens and these are not our brothers."
Then the women started crocheting little pink hats, and the racists started painting swastikas on synagogues, and the college students started terrorizing those with whom they disagreed, and the television pundits continued to serve us up the version of news we could most easily digest.
And we forgot about Aleppo, just as we forgot about Cambodia, and Rwanda, and Srebrenica, and Syria, in 2013.
We started worrying about whether the Russians had stolen the election from Hillary (probably) and whether Bill O'Reilly was a sexual predator (probably) and whether Susan Rice was a liar (probably).
But then it was Wednesday, and again we were dealing with a massacre, again in Syria, almost a hundred dead at last count, many of them children. Once again we find ourselves at the edge of this abyss, looking down into its ugly depths and seeing the reflection of our worst selves. We are not Bashar Assad with his demonic thirst for absolute power, or the ISIS soldiers fueled by hatred for the infidel. We are not the ones who have used these innocent children as pawns in a deadly game of geopolitical chess, and we are not to be blamed for the tiny chests collapsing and the eyes burning and the mouths contorted in a pain they cannot comprehend. We are not the reason their toys will go untouched, and their musical voices will be forever stilled, and their feet will be bound and buried before they ever have a chance to dance.
We did not do this, because Americans do not do this. Of all the sins we commit against innocence, and all the trespasses of which we are capable, raining poison upon the heads of babies is not one of them.
But every time we look away and interest ourselves in something other than the horror of this moment, we are committing another sin. We are compartmentalizing our humanity, and doing it under the guise of pragmatism.
At this point you might be saying, Christine, this is just another useless rant. Babies die, dictators survive, and the cowards in our own governments, Republican and Democrat alike, will prattle on about this tragedy for the length of time it takes to secure an election win. Then, they will move on to more important things, like blocking a Supreme Court nominee, or caring about what bathroom is available to the confused.
Perhaps it is useless. Words do not have the force of weapons, like the ones we should have used the first time around when President Obama drew that erasable line in the sand. Words are incapable of protecting children from a shower of poison, and they are self-serving platitudes when they emerge from the mouths of most politicians.
But every now and then, they can summon the memory of avenging angels, like the words used by Nikki Haley at the United Nations: "The gas that fell out of the sky yesterday was more deadly, leaving men, women, the elderly and children gasping for their very last breaths. And as first responders, doctors and nurses rushed to help the victims, a second round of bombs rained down. They died in the same slow, horrendous manner as the civilians they were trying to save ... The truth is that Assad, Russia and Iran have no interest in peace. The illegitimate Syrian government led by a man with no conscience has committed untold atrocities against his people for over six years . . . Iran has reinforced Assad's military, and Russia has shielded Assad from UN sanctions . . . How many more children have to die before Russia cares?"
The massacre of children is the low-hanging fruit of outrage. Grasp it, and use it.