The modern world is full of people who love to proclaim that they would have killed Hitler. Okay, sure, sure. But what would you do now?
This week I watched the new HBO documentary “Cries From Syria,” which I highly recommend if you enjoy the feeling of waves of shock, sickening disgust, and inconsolable rage washing over you, as you suppress the urge to vomit. We all know bad things are happening in Syria but this documentary shows in excruciating detail exactly what those bad things look like, and what their devastating effects have been. Children, tortured and killed; peaceful protesters murdered in the streets; entire civilian neighborhoods bombed into rubble; families dying next to one another, choking on poison gas; men and women raped in front of their friends and families; babies dead at sea, after their parents desperately tried to flee with them to Europe to escape the horror. There does not seem to be any atrocity that has not been perpetrated by the regime of Bashar al-Assad upon the people of Syria. His motivations are evil. His actions are evil. He has killed hundreds of thousands of his own citizens and injured and displaced millions more. As long as he is in power, the bombings, murders, torture, and atrocities will continue. No reasonable human can gaze upon the incredible abominations he has perpetrated and doubt that the world would be better off without him. Indeed, leaving aside thorny questions of “stability in the Middle East,” it seems likely that the assassination of Assad could directly result in saving countless lives of people who would otherwise have been killed by his forces.
Of course, lots of Syrians would love to kill him. But what about you? You’re a moral person, right? I don’t want to hear you wiggling out of this with some bullshit about “murder is wrong.” Yeah it’s wrong and this guy is murdering everyone! Plus I’ve heard you drunkenly vowing that you would have killed baby Hitler in his crib. You can’t change your tune now. Now is when you must prove you are consistent in made-up vows to murder awful genocidal dictators.
Watching the documentary, I asked myself: If I, as a journalist, were somehow granted a personal interview with Assad, would I be morally obligated to use that opportunity to kill him? Maybe by stabbing him with a pen or something? [NOTE TO SYRIAN GOVERNMENT: THIS ENTIRE POST IS A WORK OF COMEDY AND SHOULD HAVE NO BEARING ON YOUR TREATMENT OF MY INTERVIEW REQUEST.] Yes, it would be difficult to murder a man with a pen, particularly when he had security guards standing close by—but would I not be obligated to try, considering the enormity of the danger this man poses to millions of innocent people? Journalism professors may decry murdering dictators under the pretense of an interview as “unprofessional,” but how many journalism professors go down in history as heroes?
Not very many.
So imagine, by some weird twist of luck, you found yourself close to Bashar al-Assad. Maybe you’re a diplomat who’s come for futile negotiations. Maybe he’s staying at the same resort as you on vacation and you strike up a conversation at the bar. Maybe you’re a chef invited to cook him a birthday dinner. Whatever. The point is, it’s you, and this mass murderer guy, who has and is and will continue bombing and imprisoning and killing his own people indefinitely unless someone stops him, and nobody else looks like they’re gonna do it, so there you are. And maybe you have a letter opener in your pocket, for some reason. Would you do it? Even if his guards might really fuck you up when you do it? Why or why not? Explain your answer using specific citations of moral philosophy and/or being scared.