So you’re strolling around your nice, peaceful neighbourhood when you see the two biggest Symmonds kids fighting in the street. You’re used to a little bit of rough and tumble, especially at that end of the street but this time they’ve gone too far – it smells like one of them has got Mama Symmonds’ pepper spray out of her handbag and both their eyes are streaming and the little one has some in her eyes and is screaming too.
Well, there are some that say that you should leave them to it and they’re learning a lesson that pepper spray is no fun to play with but they’re still screaming and fighting and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt so you stroll over there and…
…wait. Do you give them both a slap and send them home? They’re already hurt, what’s that teaching them? That some adult will always intervene before something really bad happens? How is that incentive to learn consideration and self-control? Find out who started it and slap them? But you’ll never get to the bottom of some largely imaginary sibling feud.
Of course, the answer is to take them both back to their parents and…
Oh, wait – this is an metaphor, isn’t it? Who are the parents in this? And it’s a terrible metaphor anyway because it’s not a peaceful neighbourhood at all, you’re always wading into domestics and causing more trouble than you ease and half the neighbourhood think you’re a bully because you’re bigger than everyone else and you’re always telling people what to do.
OK. Let’s suppose that you catch the two grown-up Symmonds brothers fighting, pepper spray, one of their kids has caught a bit of stray gas… situation as before but no parents.
Great so I’ll…no, hang on. None of the bad ideas from before work but now there are no parents to step in. Now, I’ve been in one of these little moral parable things before. Just try to guess what irritatingly sanctimonious homily teacher’s working towards and get your hand up…
I know sir! You have to take the Symmonds brothers to one side and explain how much happier we’ll all be if we all just get along. They need to forget their differences and realise that their feud is hurting their own kids and that could have been a really serious accident and blinded one of their kids.
Good work, everyone. Have a gold star.
Hang on, though. Countries and people aren’t the same. And even if they were, that’s not how domestics tend to go. Even if you are too big to be ganged up on and stabbed the best that you’ll see is a pretend apology in front of someone the brothers are scared of and a resumption of the feud in private. And the little girl with the hurt eye? Probably beaten for getting them into trouble. Next thing you know a family wedding ends with police presence and a couple of bodies in the car park of the working mens’ club.
And besides, if you’re that much of a hard case that two tough guys like the Symmonds boys are scared of you; it’s unlikely that peaceful resolution is exactly your strong suit. In fact, the only people that real tough guys are scared of are the proper nutters, the ones with a legion of contradicting voices screaming away inside, steering you in all directions until you do something really crazy and you’re stood in the middle of a circle of appalled onlookers with your hands covered in innocent blood.
There are three problems to arguing political rights and wrongs with crude analogies. One is that the arguments are most likely going to turn out to be vapid crap (see above). The second is that even the analogies come apart with a bit of picking and it’s no good saying “it’s just a metaphor” when it’s the backbone of your argument. The third, and the most telling, is that it’s another step away from the reality of the situation as we consider supporting military action that is guaranteed to produce civilian casualties – never let yourself accept the euphemism ‘collateral damage’ – and if there is any general principle to draw on here it is that we must view civilian casualties as a result of differing ideologies with the same outrage that we viewed the atrocities of 9/11 or the London bombings – regardless of who we believe might have been behind them.
So don’t let someone simplify it for you. Use your brain, find news that hasn’t come straight off a Reuters feed and think for yourself.