The tragic plight of the missing girls of Chibok, Nigeria, has triggered heartbreak and hand-wringing around the world. And it has opened vexing examinations of a nation in chaos and an international community unsure of how best to respond.

The fact that the girls’ kidnappers – the fanatic, anti-Western Islamists known as Boko Haram – have been terrorizing their nation’s impoverished northeastern region for years has prompted appropriate questions about the abilities and priorities of the Nigerian government. Boys have been slaughtered. Many schools and villages have burned. Boko Haram has led a vicious campaign to douse the spirit of Christians and Muslims alike, and to expunge the idea that enlightened education leads to better lives for all.

The U.S. and other nations are supplying advisers to help gather intelligence and to aid a rescue of the kidnapped teenagers, saving them, it is hoped, from the marriage enslavement market and other crimes against humanity that Boko Haram commits.

Still, it’s abundantly clear that there are limits to what Americans and other outsiders can do. Boko Haram issued signals this week that it is willing to negotiate, perhaps trading the captive girls for imprisoned brothers in arms. The Nigerian government rejected that deal. Proceedings from here will be delicate and unpredictable.

The Chibok kidnapping comes at a time of increasing violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. The global specter of civil wars and unceasing conflict seems permanent.

Yet the Nigeria story seems especially alarming on a human scale. All those girls, taking a test at their high school when they were abducted, represent an incalculable future.

Their story reminds us that certain values, like universal education, are worth fighting for.

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