When to weigh in on human suffering

The US began the process of pulling out of Afghanistan. The Taliban has begun rapidly retaking in cities. In doing so, it quickly has become apparent that conditions on the ground are not safe for anyone who aided the US military, journalistic, or perhaps even humanitarian efforts. People are rightfully terrified and the rapid evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Afghani’s is at this moment a global priority.

I am extremely comfortable and confident in the belief that the US should, without question, expedite the emergency accommodation and resettlement of several hundred thousand Afghani families, much in the way we resettled roughly 130,000 Vietnamese after the war in Vietnam (only faster). Yes, I believe it would be a boon to our economy and our society in the long run, but that is largely besides the point. We should welcome these men and women into our society because it is unequivocally the right thing to do, it is a moral responsibility we took on when we put boots on the ground there and left them there for a decade.

But that’s pretty much the limit of any insight I could possibly hope to have and, as such, it’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the egregious smattering of take, hot takes, re-takes, W-taking takes, and L-giving takes that is currently proliferating on social media and the standard outlets at the moment. No, I am not going to link to any. No, I am not going to refer to anyone by name. Yes, this is one big, long-form subtweet.

Unless you are a bona fide expert in military incursions, occupations, or exit strategies, I do not care about what you have to say. Unless you have spent a non-trivial portion of your career covering or studying how to cope with a humanitarian crisis, I don’t value your opinion. Unless you can lend genuine insight into what the best course of action is at this moment, nobody needs to hear from you.

While they may be trivial in effect, you are well within your rights to express sympathy for the victims of this terrible moment and to extoll your leaders to ease and prevent as much suffering as possible. But trying to raise your status in this moment with anything remotely resembling an “I told you so” or claim to “victory” for your political identity du jour is horrifying. Please don’t equate this with pro-gun reprisals of “Now is not the time for politics” every time there is a gun-related tragedy, either. Rather, consider this a reminder that this moment, like nearly everything else, is not about you, your politics, or what you tweeted in 2011. We are all better served when we keep that in mind.

Maybe I’m overreacting. It’s easy to write such things when the crisis of the moment puts you squarely on the sidelines. And it’s not like an 800 word scolding calling out exactly no one is going to help anyone. But there are expert, scholarly, and journalistic voices that are being drowned out by the droning, self-congratulatory thirst for public approbation and status. And if this snotty little post rings in ears and reminds just one person that “this isn’t about you,”, and they choose to leave even one bad tweet in drafts, then it’ll be worth it.

But please, support any and all of your representatives that want to take action to bring as many refugees from Afghanistan to the US as is possible. I don’t know much about Afghanistan or wars, but I am confident it is the right thing to do.

2 thoughts on “When to weigh in on human suffering

  1. James Bailey August 16, 2021 / 1:26 pm

    I agree with “its not about you” but in a democracy people are entitled to an opinion about whether their money should be spent fighting a war. Particularly in this case, where I think many “experts” brought us this costly defeat.
    Who do you think are the best “expert, scholarly, and journalistic voices” we should be listening to?


    • mdmakowsky August 16, 2021 / 2:24 pm

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it only takes a moments reflection to ask yourself whether sharing your opinion is a contribution, whether it contributes to our understanding of the crisis and next steps. This isn’t a crisis that happened yesterday – this is a crisis unfolding in real time. It’s a bad time to play status games or try to claim ground on broad policy issues. To use a terrible analogy – I’m all for arguing about gun policy the day after a tragedy, but not while an active shooter is on the ground. We can place blame for 10 years of US military misadventures tomorrow. Today we are trying to evacuate a country.


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