Press "Enter" to skip to content

Understanding cowardice

This post is mostly about this, but also about this.

For what it’s worth, I don’t find Gary Haubold’s comments very compelling. Let’s break it down.

He presents no evidence that “If (2) did not exist… then odds are WE WOULDN’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO ANYTHING…” Unless you count all caps as evidence; I don’t. He doesn’t state his premises. Which is a shame, because one of them (whether he realizes it or not) is that there’s no reason for Saddam’s inner circle /not/ to defect if they know Saddam is going to lose power.

But that’s flawed, by current pro-war doctrine. One of the stated reasons for invading as quickly as possible is that Saddam is the kind of person who would set off nukes purely for vengeance, in the event that he was losing a war. If he’d nuke the US in a case where it would gain him nothing, how much more likely is he to take revenge on his own people if they betray him?

I suspect that even if Saddam’s inner circle was inclined to defect, fear would a powerful incentive against that decision — even in game theory terms, which Mr. Haubold didn’t actually use. Risk analysis requires them to consider the possible outcomes of betrayal in combination with the probability of each outcome. When the worst outcome is torture, followed by death, the probability of that outcome doesn’t need to be too high before that decision starts looking bad.

It’s worse if these people care about potential torture and death for their families, of course.

That covers my opinion of Mr. Haubold’s game theory. However, even if you accept his odds at face value, it’s an interesting and rather abrupt jump from “odds are” to his pentultimate paragraph, in which he says that war protestors are doing damage to the war effort simply by protesting. No mention of the odds, whatever he thinks those odds are — it has gone from a matter of probability to a definite statement of fact.

Protestors are only doing damage if in fact Saddam’s inner circle would betray him in the event that the inner circle was convinced that the US would go after Saddam full-bore. Since that has not in any way been proven, or even analyzed, it’s premature to say we should recognize the damage protestors are doing.

Whether or not free speech is more important than engaging in hard-core fighting, finally, is a personal question. I believe that free speech is in fact worth fighting for, whether directly (as Voltaire had it) or indirectly (as in the situation Mr. Haubold posits). What are we defending, if not the principles of our nation?

It requires courage to willingly adopt a course of action that may lead to harm to oneself. This is true when applied to soldiers fighting a war. It is also true when applied to those protesting tactics which are both effective and unjust.


  1. Tony Tony

    I’m afraid terrorists will go after me if I suppor the war.


    sorry about the spelling

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *