In an episode of the TV program MASH, the surgeon Hawkeye has as a patient an aggressive battlefield commander whose troops have regularly suffered higher than the normal casualty rates. The commander has just directed a fruitless attack on an enemy-held hill in which large numbers of his soldiers were killed or wounded, and he plans to return to his unit to launch another attack on the same hill as soon as he is released from the hospital. He is scheduled to be reassigned to a desk job at the end of the week and is anxious to get back to his unit in time for one last battle. Though he admits that the hill does not have any strategic importance, he is determined not to give up and admit defeat in the attempt to take it.
Hawkeye, believing the war to be futile and stupid anyway, and horrified at the sure human losses in prospect, lies to the commander, telling him that he has appendicitis, and then performs an unnecessary operation so that the commander’s recuperation time will prevent him from returning to his unit before the reassignment. The operation, while medically unnecessary, is minor and will bring no long-term harm to the commander. It will, however, prevent him from launching an attack which is virtually certain to cost the lives of many men, an attack which there is reason to believe is scheduled more to satisfy the commander’s ego than to serve a clearly indicated strategic purpose.
Can anyone assess Hawkeye’s action both from a utilitarian and from a Kantian perspective?
NOTE: Don’t assume further facts about the situation, such as that Hawkeye could prevent the attack by an appeal to higher authorities or that stopping this commander will make no difference because another equally as fruity will surely appear, facts that in effect would let you avoid the moral dilemma. Assume that Hawkeye’s action is, under the circumstances, the only way he has to prevent the attack and that his prevention of the attack will make some real difference in lives saved.