Why it's all right to be more horrified by the razing of Palmyra than mass murder

Caring about humanity is about more than wanting as many hearts to keep beating as possible. What matters is not just how many people live, but how we live. Throughout history, people have made the choice to prefer death over survival at too high a price. As the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata said, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

Others have chosen to leave the world with what they value intact rather than stay alive to see it destroyed. This might have been the case with Khaled al-Asaad, who reportedly refused to lead Isis militants to Palmyra’s relics. If al-Asaad believed Palmyra’s heritage mattered more than his own life, then we are not so monstrous if we find our own reactions imply we feel the same.
Admired for his work in documenting and promoting Syria’s cultural heritage, Asaad was regarded as a national treasure by regime loyalists and opponents
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If certain ideals are worth dying for, that means it can even be worth entering into a conflict that is going to leave more people dead than staying at home would have done. That is why body counts are always too crude a measure of the justness of a war. Would it have been better, for example, to have sued for peace with Hitler in 1939 and saved the lives of the 60 million who died in the second world war, if the price for that was to allow the extermination of a lesser number of Jews, homosexuals, Romanies and other persecuted minorities? The Third Reich was a stain on humanity and removing it was more important than minimising the total number of global dead. The dignity of dying in a good cause can be preferable to allowing the indignity of people being treated as sub-human.