November 12, 2006
Vietnam is one autopsy too many
I'd never given it much thought, but it's startling to think that there are people who actually see war in economic terms:
...[A]s every undergraduate economics student knows, that strategy is a disaster. Hence the principle of "sunk cost." The fact that I've lost a pile on some enterprise or investment is no reason to lose an even bigger pile. The smart move, economically speaking, is to reassess your decisions on a regular basis. When an investment isn't working, get out. Put your money, your talents, and your energy to better use somewhere else.Glenn Reynolds liked the piece (by Harvard professor William J. Stuntz) enough to link it twice, which means it's getting around and has probably been commented on with approval by so many bloggers that there's not much point in adding my two cents...
But here's my two cents anyway. (Common sense, I hope....)
War is far, far more serious than a business investment. Few things are as serious as war, which is on the level of defending your home, your life, the lives of your family and loved ones. In many cases it is exactly that. When your home or family or threatened, you do not think about cost. War involves risking everything, and therefore, everything must be risked.
I've always believed "limited war" is a dangerous oxymoron, yet it is one this country has not yet shed from its vocabulary. It does not matter how a war starts, once it is there it must be dealt with as an absolute commitment, and seen through to the end. To do less is a form of surrender.
"Cut and run" is often a sound business decision. If your stock is sick or a business is failing, there's no particular disgrace in getting out. I say this as someone who failed to bail out from a failing business, and lost nearly everything in the process, so it's a lesson I learned the hard way.
But bailing out in war is a disgrace. The very fact that we seemed to do that in Vietnam will always haunt this country, and as I argued not long ago, it would be a dire tragedy to allow that to happen again.
I think the medical model is better than the economic model. If a patient's body is overrun by cancer or other disease which would be fatal if left untreated, a physician has a responsibility to wage war against that disease with every tool in his medical arsenal. To do less would not only constitute medical malpractice, it would be morally atrocious. Imagine telling a patient's family that while there are treatments which would save his life, they're just too expensive to be considered cost-effective, so we ought to just let the patient try to fight the cancer or infection on his own.
Iraq may not be a family member in the truest sense, but I think the argument can be made that in many ways, Iraq is our patient, and we have at least as much moral responsibility to continue the effort to cure this patient from its malignancy as would any doctor with a cancer patient.
Unless, of course, we are prepared to say the malignancy has won. Far from being one of those cases where it's time to pronounce death along the lines of "the operation was a success but the patient died," there's no question that given enough time and troops, success is possible. In that respect I agree again with Professor Stuntz:
Between September and November of 2005, another 23,000 soldiers were deployed in Iraq; once again, both Iraqi and American casualties fell. In the early months of 2006, the number of soldiers fell again, and casualties spiraled up.If terrorists and mujahedeen can be likened to metastatic growths, would any doctor scale back treatments shown to be effective, if the cancer later spread when they were withdrawn?
I realize the medical model has its limitations. For starters, malignant metastases have no PR department to claim that the physician trying to remove them is actually spreading them and causing them to further metastasize.
But even if we assume that there were such malignant PR forces and they did make such a claim of malpractice, would that alter the moral duty of the physician to save the patient?
To carry the analogy further, assume the malpractice claim were found to be true. How would that give any newly appointed physician the moral right to let the disease have its way with the patient?
(What would be worse would be to have the living patient carted off for a premature autopsy in a politically biased morgue...)
Makes me wish I could have voted early and often.
posted by Eric on 11.12.06 at 11:42 AM
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