“I condemn those heinous killings, but…”
“First i condemn the brutal killing. But…”
“No, journalists are not legitimate targets for killing. But…”
“Liberty was indeed under attack — as a writer, I cherish the right to offend, and I support that right in other writers — but…”
“The victims of this crime did not ‘have it coming’. They did not deserve their fate. But…”
“Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned. That is why what happened in Paris cannot be tolerated. But…”
It’s an interesting rhetorical quirk, I think, and one I could have illustrated by a hundred other quotations. How should it be read?
The first thing I note, at any rate, is a tone of exasperation: I can’t believe I have to say this. But why do you have to say it? Obviously: because if you didn’t, people would think, from the rest of your post or essay, that you don’t have a big problem with the murder of the people who worked at Charlie Hebdo.
And why would people get that impression? Because you’re not interested in saying anything that would indicate compassion for the murder victims. Now, you may well have compassion for the murder victims — I have no way of knowing — but it’s not a topic you want to indulge in.
And it’s not a topic you want to indulge in because such compassion would not further your preferred political narrative. In fact, the deaths of these particular people impede the success of your narrative: the people who worked for Charlie Hebdo are definitely not on your side, and once they become victims the risk increases of their becoming personally sympathetic, which could in turn lead to sympathy for their views and actions. The heightened emotions that inevitably follow a massacre threaten to send the narrative spiraling out of control — and that can’t be allowed. You’ve got to get the conversation back on point, you’ve got to make sure that you restore the status quo ante bellum. Sympathy must be pointed in the proper direction, as must judgment, blame, commendation … and right now human responses are weaving all over the place. This is a freakin’ rhetorical emergency, is what this is.
But you can’t seem callous; you can’t seem to be tolerating, much less enjoying, murder. That wouldn’t help the cause. So you say the right thing. You say it briefly, you say it exasperatedly, you say it impatiently. Nevertheless, you say it. Then: “BUT….”