The real issues in Iraq and Syria have nothing to do with “behadings” as a mode of execution.
Every war needs its public relations rallying point. The real reasons for going to war seldom capture the public’s imagination sufficiently to get them to endorse and support such potentially dangerous and costly actions. Unfortunately, the rallying points of our two most unsuccessful wars, Viet Nam, and, more recently, Iraq, proved to be false. In Viet Nam, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a joint resolution of Congress, which gave President Johnson authorization for the war in Vietnam, was based upon reports of a second attack on the U.S.S. Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, that has been subsequently proven false. In Iraq, we had been assured of the presence of “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” which never existed. In 1898, the U.S.S. Maine blew up, despite the Navy’s insistence that the cause was undetermined, William Randolph Hearst and others immediately blamed the Spanish and the rallying cry: “Remember the Maine,” flashed across much of the newspaper headlines leading up to the war. Decades later Admiral Hyman Rickover, after studying naval documents, claimed that the sinking of the Maine was caused by an internal explosion that set off the gun powder on the ship.
Governments on all sides attempt to demonize their opponents, and thereby, dehumanize them. The media also play a significant role in this demonization. Indeed, the term “Yellow Journalism,” was used to describe William Randolph Hearst and others’ sensationalist and exaggerated reports that helped work up the public in the days leading up to the Spanish-American War. President McKinley described the Spanish as “uncivilized” and subjecting the Cubans to “extermination.” The Spanish were often described as using Cuban slaves to obtain gold. There were also anti-Catholic overtones in some of the propaganda, with its appeal to many Protestant Americans.
It is against this backdrop that we must evaluate the current claims of uncivilized behavior by ISIS. This is not intended to undo their responsibility for unjust killings, or to deny our geopolitical interests in stopping ISIS, which are very strong. But, I’ll be frank with you, I am not so sure that beheading as a mode of execution is any more “uncivilized” than biblical stoning, hangings, or even our own method of lethal injections, where one, recently, went wrong, and it took over forty minutes for the executee to die. Indeed, Utah used beheadings as its form of execution and our “ally,” Saudi Arabia still does. Which, of course, we aren’t worked up over. Whatever happened to democracy’s requirement for an educated and informed public, on the issues of the day? “Remember the Maine,” WMDs, and needing to “bomb them back to the stoneage,” as Presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently urged, based at least in part, on the inhumanity and depravity of beheadings, leaves me cold. I’m much more outraged by the actual killings of the two innocent journalists than their mode of execution. And bombing people “back to the stone age,” is not only a practical impossibility, but a sign of an immature mind, at least as I see it.