Thursday, March 1, 2007

Wasted Lives?

Sen. John McCain has been getting flak for saying "Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be. We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives." Two weeks ago, Sen. Barack Obama apologized for using the same word.

I really hope McCain doesn't apologize for this comment, although as with Obama, the political pressure will likely be too great to resist. I see nothing inherently wrong with using the word "wasted" in this context. It would be a bit strong if used to describe deaths arising from occasional missteps or unavoidable errors. When criticizing the broader conduct of a war, however, as McCain is doing, it can be very appropriate to say that lives were "wasted." (To say that the loss of life is wasteful is not to say that it is profligate.) It's not a slur on the sacrifice of our servicemen and women -- it's a criticism of those who lead them. Deaths that result from avoidable miscalculations in a war are, almost by definition, needless; and to say that a death is egregiously needless is to say that a life has been wasted.

All the same, McCain would be well advised to clarify this.

UPDATE: Rats. But Obama is defending McCain, to his credit.

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