ISIS, Drone Strikes: What Constitutes Gruesome And Brutal Behavior?

ISIS released a video today showing the (apparent) beheading death of U.S. citizen and journalist Steven Sotloff. I have not seen the video, and I do not plan to watch the video, because, I like everyone else have the same reaction: outrage at the brutality and gruesome nature of this new enemy.

But as my mind often does, I start thinking about social norms, and the way we are expected to react to news of this kind. Then I start asking questions like: What constitutes gruesome and brutal behavior? And it’s when I start going down this path that I feel I might start losing some of you. But this blog post won’t be long, so hopefully you’ll stick around.

I’m not questioning if a beheading murder at the hands of ISIS constitutes gruesome and brutal behavior, because this is self-evident. And I’m not offering any sympathy to the enemy, as some narrow-minded people might suggest when someone chooses to engage in this line of thinking. But I must acknowledge that I too consider it gruesome and brutal when innocent people suffer agony and death after a bomb is dropped on their house or their neighbor’s house. And with this realization, I have these questions: Is there a brutality scale? And if there is a measure of brutality, what components of the brutal act are we measuring?

After all, if two innocent people die brutal and gruesome deaths, one, a beheading by ISIS, another, a dismembering after a U.S. drone strike, why are these deaths classified differently in our minds? Is it as simple as we believe we are the “good guys” and ISIS are the “bad guys”? Or is it the level of personal connection to the brutality that also affects our judgment? If we were witness to the death of an innocent civilian by U.S. drone strike, would that at all inform our hypothetical “brutality scale”? Or is it because ISIS takes it to the next level, standing up close and personal to the person they are killing, that seals the deal in our minds?

This is all philosophical territory of course, as we are not going to walk away from this rumination with any level of clarity, or a better understanding of our enemy. Although, engaging in this line of thinking might help us better understand ourselves.

Because the result of both scenarios is that an innocent person died a brutal and gruesome death. So an inconvenient question to ask ourselves is why do we not care about one murder (something we don’t even call a murder I might add), but consider the other murder to be brutal and gruesome?


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