Is killing with chemical weapons worse than bullets or bombs?

Updated
Corpses of men and children killed by nerve gas after a suspected chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, 2013
Corpses of men and children killed by nerve gas after a suspected chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21, 2013
Rex Features/AP

In the debate over military intervention in Syria, a morbid yet important point of discussion has emerged: Is the use of chemical weapons worse than killing by traditional means?

Republican Sen. Rand Paul recently raised the dilemma on Fox News: “One hundred thousand people died in Syria and now another 1,000 have died,” he said. “They’re all tragic deaths, but I’m not sure they’re different because one came from gas and one came from a bullet.”

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell continued that conversation on The Last Word during an interview with Dominic Tierney, professor of political science and international politics at Swarthmore College. In Tierney’s piece for The Atlantic, “Better Hope They Die The Right Way,” he noted, “Oddly, the international community seems less concerned by how many people the Syrian regime kills than by the methods it uses to kill them.”

He argued the world is too focused on the tools instead of the end result–the number of casualties and the situation at large.

“The entire case for war in Syria really hinges on this idea that chemical weapons are uniquely evil. But the distinction between chemical weapons and conventional weapons is fairly arbitrary,” he told O’Donnell. “It is not clear that conventional weapons like bombs or high explosives or guns are any less brutal.”

He added, “If you ask a woman in Aleppo who has just seen her family blown up by artillery fire, and if you ask her if she takes any solace in the fact that they didn’t die in the gas attack, I’m sure she would, of course, find that absurd.”

Is killing with chemical weapons worse than bullets or bombs?

Updated