Aside from the strange fact that both the Ferguson Police Department and the barbarians of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria are using U.S. armor and weaponry, the shooting death of Michael Brown and the murder of James Foley would seem to have little in common, about as little as the Midwest and the Middle East.
Yet the similarities are evocative. Both frame enormously complex problems in the context of a single, riveting incident. Both were deaths in the American family, calling every parent to feel something of the Brown and Foley parents’ bottomless grief and to think, if only for an instant, “there but for the grace of God….”
Both events draw attention to life-and-death issues that call on every resource of our minds and hearts: What to do about racial divisions at home and the horrific outbreak of lethal sectarianism abroad.
But both stories are also missing some critical specifics: What actually happened between Brown and Officer Darren Wilson, and exactly how -- in pursuit of what regional and global strategy -- should the United States act against the forces that killed Foley?
Both incidents hit uncomfortably close to home for me. I might well have felt one way about the Islamic State—“Go all in and shoot the bastards”—if my eldest son had not just told me that he thought a good way to start what he hopes will be a career in public service would be to sign up for Officer Candidate School. The military is an honorable profession, but I lost friends who did that when I was in college.