Gourevitch and Sontag discuss media coverage and photography of horrific events that occur around the world. In We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, Gourevitch explains how the world ignored the genocide in Rwanda, but they all watched the camps with the cholera outbreaks after the Hutus fled. People saw it on the news, and the “mass anguish” was “an appeal to the world’s conscience” (Gourevitch 168). The international community jumped at the chance to provide humanitarian aid in Zaire when the outbreak occurred. However, they refused to call what happened in Rwanda a genocide because they would have to send troops in. In Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag mentions how we look at pictures of war and how the dead “haven’t come back to life” to tell us “to bring a halt to the abomination which is war” (Sontag 125). Taking photographs of the dead will not help because we have not experienced what they have. We can never imagine what they went through even though we try. We can say that war and killings are bad, but we tend to distance ourselves with the photographs. We are not right there experiencing the pain occurring, and we have the privilege to be distanced from it.
Gourevitch and Sontag both mention the distinction between empathy and sympathy. By looking at these photographs and watching people die in the thousands, we think we feel empathy for them. However, empathy means having a shared personal experience to a person. We can never know what the victims went through because they are not here, and we did not die with them. We can have sympathy for them, but we will never truly have empathy. Humans like to feel they know exactly what a person went through and how to help, but this does nothing because we create a false sense of empathy when all we have done is watch. Empathy and sympathy are two different things, and I think many times we confuse the definitions. We need to realize the difference and know that we have the privilege of being distanced, so we did not go through what they were forced to.