One can only imagine how wars in the past would have looked like on TV or internet. How many kids did Genghis Khan slaughtered? How many women were raped and killed during the American civil war? We really have no idea.
We have a very skewed view of what war really is. We live in times of peace where even our wars are somewhat civilized. During the worst times in Iraq, we still had a very contained and scoped kind of violence by historic standards. Yes, beheadings are brutal but still women and children were for the most part spared (or at least not intentionally targeted). It did help that we didn’t have American citizens there but in any case, the point is that with some exceptions that war still maintained some resemblance of ‘civility’.
What we see now in Syria is a good counterpoint. Killing women and children has become the rule, not the exception. Unless something happens, I predict the situation to get even worse.
Why would we have that difference? My take is: the less military power involved, the more brutal a war is.
Think about it. What was the ‘cleanest’ war ever fought in a large scale? The cold war. Both the US and the USSR knew that the other had enough power to completely destroy them. So every time violence occurred (and it did) the level and scope of that violence was controlled by the threat of escalation. The outcome was known from the start.
What makes something like the Syria civil war so damaging is the lack of power from both sides. Both government and rebels only have small weapons, and no side has a clear advantage. So what do they do? They escalate, trying to gain an edge. How do you escalate when you have no military power? You use terror.
The world has a very, very clear choice in Syria. We can watch as they grind into a slow, brutal carnage or we introduce a larger power in the mix. Will less people die if we intervene? Probably not, at least in the short term. Democracy is not cheap on blood. However, there is such a thing as different levels of violence. If we don’t intervene, expect to get a little glimpse of how wars in the past were fought. It will not be pleasant.