From the past, a glimpse of today.

Via pdb, and a conversation I had at lunch today:

“Are a thousand unreleased prisoners sufficient reason to start or resume a war? Bear in mind that millions of innocent people may die, almost certainly will die, if war is started or resumed.”

I didn’t hesitate. “Yes, sir! More than enough reason.”

“‘More than enough.’ Very well, is one prisoner, unreleased by the enemy, enough reason to start or resume a war?”

I hesitated. I knew the M.I. answer – but I didn’t think that was the one he wanted. He said sharply, “Come, come, Mister! We have an upper limit of one thousand; I invited you to consider a lower limit of one. But you can’t pay a promissory note which reads ‘somewhere between one and one thousand pounds’ – and starting a war is much more serious than paying a trifle of money. Wouldn’t it be criminal to endanger a country – two countries in fact – to save one man? Especially as he may not deserve it? Or may die in the meantime? Thousands of people get killed every day in accidents … so why hesitate over one man? Answer! Answer yes, or answer no – you’re holding up the class.”

He got my goat. I gave him the cap trooper’s answer. “Yes, sir!”

“‘Yes’ what?”

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a thousand – or just one, sir. You fight.”

“Aha! The number of prisoners is irrelevant. Good. Now prove your answer.”

I was stuck. I knew it was the right answer. But I didn’t know why. He kept hounding me. “Speak up, Mr. Rico. This is an exact science. You made a mathematical statement; you must give proof. Someone may claim that you have asserted, by analogy, that one potato is worth the same price, no more, no less, as one thousand potatoes. No?”

“No, sir!”

“Why not? Prove it.”

“Men are not potatoes.”

For those few who don’t recognize the passage, or who haven’t read the book, that’s a quoted passage from Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.  If you haven’t read the book, I can’t recommend it enough.  If you have read it, isn’t it about time to reread it…  again?

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1 Response to From the past, a glimpse of today.

  1. Scott says:

    Very apropos to the situation in Israel right now!

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