What's a picture really worth?

Editor of the Reformer:

What's a picture from Syria really worth?

If a picture, as the saying goes, is worth a thousand words, then an obvious question to follow is this: What is the value of those thousand words? In a photo that recently made the rounds of the international news services, five-year-old Omran Daqneesh is shown seated in an ambulance, bloodied, shell-shocked, and painted in dust. He was rescued from the rubble of his family's collapsed apartment building in Aleppo, Syria. His home, bombed by his own government, was completely destroyed, and while Omran survived the airstrike, his 10-year-old brother did not.

The photo of Omran should pierce the shield of our complacency. The young boy's eyes stare out in shock. It seems to be not so much a blank stare as it does an expression of a question coming from a deep, disturbing perplexity. Yet it is easy for the viewer to translate the boy's silent look into words: how is this possible? Answer: because it is all too common a human behavior. The child's expression suggests yet another question: how can such a thing be permitted? Answer: because we allow it to. Far from the conflict, we waste our thousand words soothing our conscience by castigating those responsible-whether silently, or to ourselves, or to friends and acquaintances in passing conversations.


Government is not meant to be the voice of a society's moral conscience. That responsibility lies with the individuals who make up its populace. In a healthy democracy, in a free and open country, it is the government that should respond to the people and not the other way around.

The price of apathy is even greater than that of fear because it transfers the cost of our inaction to others. In a world that has become as interconnected and linked in travel and technology as ours, the passing off of our responsibilities will inevitably make them drop upon the shoulders of our children and our grandchildren. The photo of Omran tells a story that is being repeated daily in Syria. What the photo can't show, however, is where Omran will be in fifteen years. Will he be alive? Will he be living in his homeland or relocated to a host country? Will he be a proponent for a world attempting to live in peace? Or will he be drawn into the miasma of hatred and violence that had him sitting bloodied in the ambulance, his suffering manipulated into causing more of the same, here, there, or somewhere else?

Conservative or liberal labels aside, we Americans are fundamentally a charitable people. Let's act like one. Give a few minutes of your time for Omran and the more than eleven million Syrians who have been displaced by the war. Tweet, post, or share your support for them with your friends, your community, and your congressional representatives. Words are powerful. Use them. There is not much an individual can do to stop the war, but there is much he or she can do to help those who suffer its terror: search Help Syrian Refugees.

Robert Madrygin, Brattleboro, Sept. 21