Dismissing the Value of Life and Death
About twenty years ago a bunch of my friends and I were discussing the possibility of going to war and killing people. The subject was more germane for us than most folks; all but one of my circle of friends ended up in the service, and the question mattered. The one of us who didn't end up serving in the military just could not see losing his life for something because it was too valuable. My contention then and now is that something that you cannot spend has no value. The difference to a vending machine between a bent nickel and a ten thousand dollar bill is nothing. The universe is not a vending machine, of course, but the accomplishment record of people who think their lives too valuable to risk is roughly equal to that of people who accept that their lives are worthless. Somewhere in the middle are people who risk what they have and then work like hell to redeem what they have chanced, and these people accomplish things.
My friend Michael Totten is arguing today
about the immoral case against the war. The current subject of his concern is somebody arguing the infinite value of the innocent lives that get lost in any struggle. I think the argument is the same as the one I had two decades ago. Accepting the risk of putting lives on the line implies accepting value for your actions and responsibility for those lives and your own. Michael is arguing against people who refuse to take responsibility for their lives, and choose to do so in the pages of national magazines. For a lot of people, endorsing the war means accepting responsibility for their own lives. How much better it is to cloak yourself in the obscurity of an infinite value than to risk an honest assessment of your life.
On approaching the steps of Appomattox Courthouse, Robert E. Lee said, "I would rather face a thousand deaths…" In the end he had the courage to put a value to his pain, and accept that price for his actions. I really do not expect as honorable a surrender from those opposed to the very concept of war. They really have shown themselves to be infinitely less prepared to face consequences.