A Vast Silence


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

Related Post Roulette

18 Responses

  1. Avatar Kim says:

    First, a technical point: is that more or less than we wound up paying out to ensure global economic stability (and avoid martial law)?

    People die. If you go into crazy places (like the Sierra Nevadas, you muddy goldgrubbers), you are more likely to die. I do not consider the government responsible for your safety. If you want to provide for your own safety, hire mercenaries or bodyguards.

    Is it fun? Knowing that you could avoid someone dying, if you were going to compromise your principles? Hell no. Leaves psychic scars too.

    Not everyone’s cut out to be a nurse, and not everyone’s cut out to sit on their heels and watch innocents die. But what needs done must be done.Report

  2. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Didn’t you write a post a few months ago saying that yes, it was absolutely right for the US government to trade several Al’Qaeda hostages for a single US soldier? Why is it different this time? Is it just that the money is more useful than the hostages that were traded?Report

    • Yes, and yes — 5 al-Qaeda prisoners are worth less than one U.S. soldier, because one U.S. soldier (even a guy who might have deserted his post) is a more powerful military asset than 5 al-Qaeda soldiers. Money, on the other hand, is an integral part of the means by which a soldier’s destructive capabilities are magnified: the U.S. soldier is as powerful as she is in no small part because there is an immensely well-stocked and technologically-advanced military apparatus backing her up, not to mention investment of training and education that all of that money has put into her. Without substantial funds to get equipment, the al-Qaeda Bad Guys have Kalashnikovs or similar small arms, and aren’t going to do any substantial damage anywhere from a strategic point of view, no matter how clever they are. With funds, they become ISIS or the 9/11 bombers.

      At least from a utilitarian perspective, we kind of have to ask whether tourists, who are neither political nor military assets in any meaningful sense, are worth trading the means of magnifying an individual soldier’s power. Deontologically, of course, the military capabilities of an individual are irrelevant; the person is an end unto herself and the reason we have a government at all is to protect her. And we get into tough moral territory when those two calculi conflict, as here. I for one saw no such conflict with the Bergdahl hostage swap, for reasons stated supra.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      This was my thought. We often send people on rescue missions — mission they very well may and often do die on — to bring people back. We’ve traded prisoners to bring people back. We’ve changed policy to bring people back. Why is money worse? In some ways, money is better. “My son/daughter/husband/wife/mother/father had to die to bring those people back when we could have just paid to have them returned?!?!”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        And it’s time for some Kipling.

        It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
        To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
        “We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
        Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

        And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
        And the people who ask it explain
        That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
        And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

        It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
        To puff and look important and to say: —
        “Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
        We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

        And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
        But we’ve proved it again and again,
        That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
        You never get rid of the Dane.

        It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
        For fear they should succumb and go astray;
        So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
        You will find it better policy to say: —

        “We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
        No matter how trifling the cost;
        For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
        And the nation that pays it is lost!”Report

      • Avatar Francis in reply to Kazzy says:


        When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
        And the women come out to cut up what remains,
        Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
        An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman says:

    My college acquaintance’s disappearance is approaching two years (there has been a video of him alive in the interim). On the one hand, I don’t like the idea of the government paying money to secure their release. On the other hand, the alternative in a lot of these cases is death rather than not-kidnapping…Report

  4. Avatar Damon says:

    So if the French have been paying off kidnappers, is our State Department going to brand them guilty of “material support of terrorist organizations” and close down all their bank accounts, put them on no fly lists, and prosecute them? There really is no difference.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    K&R insurance

    int pay(insured, premium, carrier)
      struct individual *insured; 
      float premium;
      struct company *carrier;
      float amt = debit(insured, premium);
      if (amt > 0)
        credit(carrier, amt);
      return amt == premium;


  6. Avatar RTod says:

    I’m really surprised Fox isn’t running with this. Obama’s European friends are caving in to Islamic terrorists, while he sits quietly letting it happen? How is that not running 24/7 since the NYT ran the story?Report