Poor souls whose roommates have infinite and strong opinion on Syria are already abandoning ship in 100s, and now we're sad to report that opinion on Syria brings out the worst even in The Oatmeal. By “worst” we mean a cartoon strip that not only ends with a punchline drowning in its own predictablity, but also further exaggerates a nonsensical attitude that you cannot have a conversation on the dangers of chemical weapons without being someone who thinks bombing is a time-honored, age-old tradition to which we must cling blindly.
First things first, if President Obama wants to strike Syria to protect the world from chemical weapons, then he must also pardon Chelsea Manning for the service she did to civilians whose lives were grossly violated by the US Army. The unfortunate thing is, the American Presidency is designed to protect its dirty secrets and simultaneously punish others for theirs. This is not a problem specific to the President, but rather a problem built into the position itself.
But let's get back to this Oatmeal cartoon:
As much as I'm not a fan of political correctness being the basis for every conversation, I'm not sure why the TV-glued apathetic person is portrayed as overweight. Usually this image is reserved for over-consuming, conservative, ignorant Americans, but as far as I can tell, even the Tea Party groups are against this strike, and not surprisingly, considering it's the Muslim Brotherhood the Assad regime is trying to quell, and everyone knows that Muslims — Brotherhood or not — are on the bottom of these people's shit lists, along with gays and atheists.
At some level everyone knows that if you're to eradicate a rebellion by something like the Muslim Brotherhood, the methods are not going to be pretty. And guess who knows this the most? Assad's pal Putin, who is now preaching diplomacy. There is a very fine line between what is a country's own business — it is after all Syria that suffers the most if it loses its secularity to religious fundamentalists — and when to say, nope, you can't do that; you simply cannot do that even if you're trying to protect your secular and ruthless dictatorship, which happens to be a pretty good setup for your country since its borders were carved out like a hot ethnic mess by the British.
So who is this person in this cartoon? Not Kerry and Obama — who are both fit and active and handsome. And not anyone who strongly thinks chemical weapons are off limits because I would be really hard-pressed to believe that these people were previously stupidly apathetic as implied by this cartoon.
Therefore, The Oatmeal and others, here's the unfortunate thing about ideals: you can't have all good changes all at once, though you must fight for them at all times. What you can have at any given point depends, however, on what you have working in your favor. It's the pathetic truth, but what we have working in favor of banning chemical weapons altogether is that big Western countries are for it as well. What we have working against us in banning bombs and wars altogether is that the world polices themselves are the perpetrators. So the way we talk and think about eradicating wars, torture, guns, and bombing simply cannot be the same as the way we talk and think about the use of chemical weapons because though their goals are the same in our kind hearts, for practical reasons our battles against them are very different. And the thing about being an activist is that if you can't think strategically enough to bring about a change, then you're good to have around but ultimately not the most useful.
Finally, as Joyce Carol Oates asked on Twitter: is the death of a civilian worse than the death of a soldier? In our kind hearts — and that is one thing we all agree on, that we have kind hearts — no, one death is not worse than the other. However, killing and dying are prominently featured in a soldier's job description, and these soldiers have signed up because they believe in their duty. Civilians, on the other hand, are people who have said: “No, I don't want to sign up to the job of killing and dying,” and so to be fair, we agree to keep them out of it — though Rebecca West makes a good point that civilians and cities should be fair game in wars so that we truly realize the vicious nature of wars as opposed to being a devastating thing that happens at a distance. The matter of a soldier's death is a matter of, will we ever have a time when wars are not needed? We sincerely hope that we will, thanks to everyone having eaten enough Swedish meat balls and assembled enough Ikea furniture by then.