The Cost of War

So we’re at war. Let’s make some assumptions now.

  1. we’re at this war because we’re the good guys.

  2. we’re going into Iraq to create democracy, on behalf of the Iraqi people, and not for any ulterior motive.

There are plenty of other threads to argue these points in, but they’ll kindof cloud the question I want to ask here.

So anyway. We’re in here, and we lob a missile at the Iraqi ministry of information, or whatever. It goes awry, and slams into a marketplace, killing, let’s say, Muhammed Generic Iraqi and his five year old son.

The standard rhetoric of war says that his life was a sacrifice, given up for the greater good. Or that he was collateral damage, a necessary casualty to acheive the stated aims.

I’m a little worried about that, to be honest. You see, the good of the many may outweigh the good of the few, but you can only make that decision, in my book, if you are the few. Just as I cannot spend your money unless you give it to me, I cannot sacrifice your life for you. Only you can give up your life. If I take it away from you, that’s not a sacrifice for the greater good: that’s murder.

So, what gives us the right to take someone’s life from them so that others can gain from their death, if they don’t want us to do it, and aren’t willing to give up their lives? Fair enough, Saddam has no such qualms, but isn’t that the point? What is the difference, in fundamental, real terms? Where do we get the right to kill someone else for our view of a greater good?

It’s not about the “right” as it is a simple matter of numbers. In this case we are not, so much, talking about the numbers of a majority versus a minority but the numbers of people who will surely die because of Saddam’s continuing existence.

I’d freely wager a substantial sum that even if this war takes months to close, it will still not result in the loss of Iraqi life that Saddam himself has incurred during his reign. However tempting it is to compare such a rationale to, “we had to destroy the village in order to save it,” that does not entirely apply here. Mohammed Generic and son were at substantial risk even before any stray theoretical bomb hit their marketplace. Let’s enumerate these risks:[ul][li]Being killed by one of Saddam’s death squads for whatever random reason.[/li]
[li]Being murdered at the behest of one of Saddam’s psychotic sons for some perceived minor slight.[/li]
[li]Starving to death because Saddam’s willingness to defy international law permits the country to lapse into economic chaos.[/li]
[li]Starving to death because Saddam intentionally diverts international food aid to his murderous feyadeen thugs.[/li]
[li]Starving to death because Saddam’s isolationist policies do not propel Iraq into a future of increased agricultural yields.[/li]
[li]Dying of whatever curable disease because of Saddam’s diversion of medical resources to his family and elite kleptocracy.[/li]
[li]Dying from being tortured because you were on an unsuccessful Iraqi World Cup soccer squad or Olympic team.[/li]
[li]Dying from the intentional use of chemical weapons against Saddam’s own people.[/li][sup]YOU FAILED TO SPECIFY THAT MOHAMMED GENERIC AND SON WERE NOT KURDISH.[/sup]

[li]Dying prematurely because your earning power was compromised by the intense corruption of Saddam’s regime.[/li]
[li]Dying prematurely because of Saddam’s abysmal safety and containment standards while developing weapons of mass destruction.[/li]
[li]Dying prematurely due to radiation exposure after Israel justifiably bombed his nuclear weapons development facility.[/li]
[]Dying prematurely because Iraq was recently penalized some $90 MILLION dollars of critical national assets that could have purchased food instead of being paid out for illegally detaining western oil workers and causing them bodily harm immediately prior to the previous Gulf war.[/ul]And finally:[ul][]Dying prematurely as a collateral casualty because Saddam has repeatedly and flagrantly flouted international law thereby necessitating foreign military intervention.[/ul]

Well ordered thoughts Mr.** Zenster**, surely no one has any words to add so let me now say…

Thank You Sir for this clear and succinct summary.

T’is an honor and you are most very welcome. While dissent is rightfully anticipated (though questioningly welcomed), I shall hope for honest contoversy instead of mindless acquiescence. This you have not shown in the least and thereby gain my thanks.

OK. Well, as I don’t want to get into the apportioning of blame for deaths since 1991 (suffice to say that both I and the UN Official in charge of the Iraqi sanctions program feel that Saddam is not entirely to blame for starving people, and the use of DU weapons in GW1 are at least circumstantially linked to increases in leukemia since then), I’ll assume that what you have said is right, although a number of points (not all of them, certainly, and the thrust of your argument is pretty solid) are indeed debatable.

Which makes your point, if I may pull it back to my original post, that I may steal your money if by doing so I can prevent someone else stealing much more money from someone else? I guess if you believe Taxation is always Theft that works, but I don’t, because I elect officials and give them the right to tax me. No Iraqi elected the invasion force. The right over life and death is not devolved from the individual by choice, but but by force. The fact that we are doing it and not someone else does not change the fact.

In fact, it is this whole “numbers game” that I am opposed to. If my death is required to save many more lives, then there may be a chance that I will make that sacrifice. But the numbers game ignores the existence of individual lives. Have you ever seen those books that list the names of every single soldier killed during WWII? Have you been to the Holcaust Memorial in Israel and heard the names of the victims being read out (a process which, IIRC, takes a full year). Saying “Five Iraqis were killed” is not the same thing as saying “Muhammet Al-Azeem, his son, his daughter, his wife, his mother, and his brother, were killed.” The latter recognises that there are individuals involved, distinct from each other, and with relationships stretching beyond the group.

Where do I draw the line? At what point do my choices and judgements about the price worth paying, about the killing of individuals to save others, outweigh the choices of those I will kill? If I can shoot you and therefore save a hundred lives, but you do not want me to shoot you, and furthermore you have not anything, personally, to do with the process that would kill those hundred people, can I still do so? By what right? By what measure of Good? What about a thousand? I hesitate to go higher than that, because the reality of the situation in Iraq indicates that the ratio of involuntarily sacrificed individuals to those “saved” will not stretch much higher than 1000:1.