Every civil war is a tragedy, a unique sadness, for it turns brothers and sisters against each other. The human cost of the civil war in Syria—at least 100,000 dead, 6.5 million internally displaced and 2.5 million refugees who have fled to another country—is stunning. A third of the nation’s houses have been destroyed, 40 percent of the hospitals ruined; and two million children have been forced out of school. The government lays siege to rebel cities and suburbs, rebel forces fight one another, snipers shoot women and target doctors, people burn their clothes to keep warm.
Only a unified adherence to international humanitarian law can save Syria. All permanent members of the U.N. Security Council supported the council’s statement calling for all parties to allow the flow of aid and medical help. But some on the council, including Russia and China, have hindered its enforcement. Two other voices have called for a settlement and laid down requirements for successful peace talks: Human Rights Watch, in its “World Report 2014,” and a Vatican study group that included seven international experts and leaders.
The requirements include the participation of all parties to the conflict, an immediate cease-fire, an end to the funding and supplying of weapons by foreign countries and an immediate start of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction. “The test of progress,” according to David Milliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, is “the fate of Aleppo.” The international community must fully invest in stabilizing the divided city of 2.2 million. “If Syria is ever to recover its tranquility and beauty,” Mr. Milliband said, “this city must be saved from descending into hell.”
Cruel Means and Ends
It is a cruel irony that people debate about the “most humane” way to kill a person, yet this conversation persists in some of the 32 states that still allow the death penalty. Is lethal injection morally preferable to the electric chair? Does a firing squad provide a more efficient execution than a gas chamber?
In recent years, European pharmaceutical companies have helped reignite this debate by refusing to sell drugs to American states for use in executions, making it more difficult for them to employ lethal injections. As a result, officials in Ohio relied on a new and untested concoction of drugs in the execution of Dennis B. McGuire, a convicted rapist and murderer, on Jan. 16. It took 25 agonizing minutes for Mr. McGuire to die. Witnesses heard gasping, snorting and choking sounds. Amber McGuire, his daughter, later said she heard “horrible noises” and covered her eyes and ears.
The family of the victim, understandably, was less sympathetic. “He is being treated far more humanely than he treated her,” they said in a statement. True. But is this the right standard for judging the means of execution?
Arguments about the relative humaneness of different methods of execution miss the essential point: When the state applies the death penalty, it deliberately ends the life of a human being. Whatever method it uses, the state perpetuates the cycle of violence.
The McGuire family plans to file a lawsuit in federal court. They claim the prolonged execution violated the provision of the Eighth Amendment that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” Instead of continuing the futile search for more “civilized” instruments of death, lawmakers in the United States should finally recognize that capital punishment itself is unjust and unnecessary.
Fairness in Football
This should be the high point of the year for fans of the National Football League, and it surely was for followers of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, who squared off in Super Bowl XLVIII. Yet the early days of 2014 were shadowed by the ongoing legal dispute over compensation for former players who suffer from the long-term effects of repeated concussions. The sport was further criticized by President Obama, who again remarked that if he had a son, he would not permit him to play professional football because of the hazards involved.
Football fans need to pay attention to these issues. Football is the most popular sport in America, so it would carry special significance if the fans support efforts to provide fair compensation for former players with health issues. The N.F.L. should also continue to alter the rules of the game in order to limit the most severe blows to the head. Players should be given the best available equipment, like the special helmet worn by Wes Welker in the A.F.C. championship game, to help prevent further concussions.
Long-term questions also remain. Should other sporting activities, like boxing, mixed martial arts and even the particular move in soccer called heading, receive more scrutiny? Head injuries, after all, are not unique to football. Should we begin to discourage participation in the most dangerous sports? There are many other sports that provide recreation and entertainment without the same risk of damage to the players’ health. These are admittedly heavy questions for the Sunday fan looking to relax and enjoy the big game, but we cannot in good conscience ignore them.