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What Makes Eating The Heart Of A Dead Soldier The Gruesome Thing?

American politicians have been in a hurry to align themselves with the rebels in Syria’s civil war, proposing laws to send them money and weapons, and depicting them as heroes that are in line with American values.

Now, a video of Syrian rebel leader in action could lead to a pause in the push to arm and fund the rebels. In a video purposefully recorded to intimidate soldiers with the Syrian government, rebel leader Abu Sakkar is shown cutting the heart out of a dead enemy soldier and taking a bite out of it before threatening, “I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog.” The rebel leader then instructs his own soldiers to do the same thing to the bodies of the enemies that they kill.

The story has gripped people’s attention all around the world. They’re calling it a human rights abuse, a war crime, an outrage. As I read stories about this incident, however, I’m pondering what it is that makes eating a piece of the heart of a dead enemy soldier so shocking.

In these stories, it’s the cannibalism that’s described as the shocking thing. The fact that the soldier whose heart is being eaten has been killed seems to be regarded as unremarkable in the reporting on this incident. Yet, the dead soldier wasn’t harmed by having his heart eaten. He was already beyond harm.

How is it that violently smashing the life out of a person is regarded as an ordinary, but taking a small bit of an enemy’s dead body as a snack is not?

America’s political leaders have been quite willing to send weapons to the people who created this video of cannibalism. Of course, they didn’t know about the cannibalism until just a few hours ago, but they did know about the massive killing that the weapons would be used for.

What makes it acceptable for our government to send weapons to foreign countries to help people kill other people? Why don’t these same political leaders also send over forks and knives, to help the Syrian rebels eat the hearts of their slaughtered enemies?

What’s the moral difference?

1 comment to What Makes Eating The Heart Of A Dead Soldier The Gruesome Thing?

  • Bill

    You’re quite right in pointing out that it should be the murder, not the munching, that most offends our moral sense. Still, I would argue that these differing responses are biologically plausible (albeit not excusable), at least in light of our evolutionary history. War between separate families or tribes, and the murder it entails, is at least as old as the great apes (and probably a lot older, if the wild critters around our farm are any evidence). Sadly, it appears as though war’s Darwinian benefits (my genes have a better chance to thrive if I knock your unrelated genes out of the competition for limited resources) have hard-wired a penchant for warfare into our hearts and minds. By the same token, it seems that Darwin may also have hard-wired into us a revulsion for cannibalism. Perhaps the risk is just too great that you’ll start eating your own relations if you develop a sweet tooth for your own kind. That, plus I can think of no better way to transmit horrible infectious diseases between individuals than by dressing and eating each other. While cannibalism is certainly not unknown in human history, it is my subjective impression that it has been a lot more rare than most of the evils we have routinely visited on our fellow men. The profoundly visceral revulsion that cannibalism widely triggers suggests to me that this is a very hard-wired rule, indeed.

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