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human decency

On Death and Human Decency


There was a time when the sanctity of human life, at least publicly, meant more in our society. We now live in a world different from that of 4 years ago. Though pre-2020 life was perhaps more murky underneath than many of us thought, three years of incessant official lying, institutionalized vilification, population segregation, and publicly sanctioned hate has taken its toll.

Last week, some people with twisted minds unleashed a horror on the people in Israel. They have inflicted pain, humiliation, and death in ways that suggest the perpetrators have lost the basic tenets of human decency. They have unleashed death on innocent people in both Israel and Gaza. 

They knew they were inciting a war that would devastate lives, families, and futures on both sides of the border. We should be saddened and appalled for what is unfolding. And appalled by those who are egging it on.

For the Jewish people, who have suffered recurrent pogroms throughout history and the worst of them within living memory, thinking of those dying on the ‘other side’ will be particularly hard. Many will find it impossible for years to come. Only a stupid person would condemn such attitudes rather than sympathize. 

My grandmother never got over the way her son was deliberately starved to death by people of another nation, but who would not understand that? Jewish people have had this, over again, generation after generation, living with fear of what has just happened.

What is different and truly disturbing, in 2023, is the public response of others. Politicians are publicly calling for extermination of entire populations, half of whom are children. Claims are made that those who don’t support mass death ‘are on the side of terrorists.’ Those who show concern for innocent children dying in Gaza are publicly condemned. A media calls for blood and does not now seem to care that the blood comes from young girls, from pregnant mothers, from the elderly (these are the people of Gaza, as they are the people of Israel).

To express sorrow for the killing of innocent people is decent. It is not, in itself, a condemnation of those who do the killing. We accept in war that innocent people will be killed. We fight wars when we see no other way to prevent ongoing harm. Many who fight them care about causing further harm, see all those involved as human, and recognize they are making hard choices for a reason. 

Many Israeli soldiers will see what happens now as the best of only bad options, not something to want. They don’t hate innocent people deliberately put in harm’s way by others. Those that deserve condemnation are those who sit on the sidelines, far away, and advocate for the killing of more.

Perhaps we have been degraded in the West by watching celebrities and TV hosts advocating that we let our own people die because they make medical choices that the celebrities don’t like. Or by hearing our leaders denigrate people for upholding human rights and obvious truth, or being scapegoated as dirty and dangerous for refusing orders to abandon healthy family life, hide their faces in public, or accept mandated injections. 

We have witnessed people being left to die simply because they refused a vaccination with no relevance at all to their treatment, and heard silence from the media we had thought was there to expose and discuss obvious wrong. We have somehow degraded ourselves and made this degradation a virtue. 

The Jewish people experienced the results of European societal self-degradation 80 years ago. People in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, and the Rohingya, have all experienced the same. Compromising on basic principles of the inviolable worth and equality of others has always been dark.

Israel will do what they feel is necessary now to secure their borders and their people. At some time in the future, we may understand more of the despicable underlying deception and callousness from which this current round of gratuitous bloodletting arose, who orchestrated it, and who knew. 

It is incumbent on those of us whose children are not dead, and whose eyes are not blinded by blood, to recognize the suffering of all those who are dying simply because of birth and geography. In times like this, the worst we can do is glorify maliciousness and condemn peacemakers. The people involved need those more physically detached to help, to understand the difficulty of the situation forced upon those responding and those being hammered, not to cheer on the killing. 

We have recently compromised truth, human decency, and ideas of basic right and wrong on a public scale. But we can also rise above that and at least refrain from the cowardliness of advocating for the mass slaughter of children and the innocent. Let’s recognize that for what it is, from whoever’s mouth, social media, or news pages it emanates from. And recognize the pain of those who are caught in the carnage.

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  • David Bell

    David Bell, Senior Scholar at Brownstone Institute, is a public health physician and biotech consultant in global health. He is a former medical officer and scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), Programme Head for malaria and febrile diseases at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva, Switzerland, and Director of Global Health Technologies at Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund in Bellevue, WA, USA.

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