The Vioxx Moment
Many years ago, I heard a British Psychoanalyst (whose last name was, I believe, "Lang") give a talk in which he noted that the side effects of a drug are not its side effects, but its effects. The only distinction between the two is that the effects are intentional and the side effects are not. Obviously, use of the term "side" is meant to minimize the importance of such effects. And, in many cases, it is true that fewer people are afflicted by the unintentional effects of a drug than are benefited by the intentional effects. And, in some cases, an unintentional effect will prove to be beneficial.
Nevertheless, there are cases in which the unintentional effects of taking a drug will be lethal. This is true, for instance, of taking Vioxx over an extended period of time, which is the normal way a drug like this is taken by those who suffer from arthritis. Vioxx has been taken off the market because one of the unintentional effects of long term use of Vioxx is to increase the potential for heart disease. The first jury decision resulted in a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and an award of $253 million. Merck faces somewhere between 4,000 to 5,000 similar suits.The word "side" when it occurs in the term "side effect" constitutes an instance of a weasel word, a notion discussed in an earlier blog. There is another equivalent weasel word that the U. S. military (and probably all other militaries) use and that is the word "collateral," as in the phrase "collateral damage." When the U. S. military launches a Cruise missile at a military target positioned in a civilian area (say a television or radio station the enemy might use to its advantage) it may sometimes damage or destroy nearby homes and kill and/or wound some of the people living in them. This damage to noncombatants and their homes is called "collateral damage" by way of trying to distract us from looking closely at this damage and these deaths. In this respect it is linguistically just like "side effect." Like the unintended deaths caused by long-term use of Vioxx, this damage to civilian property and these civilian deaths were not caused intentionally. Does that make them okay?
In discussions I have had in other contexts, I have learned that what seems to distinguish terrorists from soldiers is that the civilian deaths caused by terrorists are often caused intentionally while those caused by soldiers are usually caused unintentionally. Apparently, this distinction is decisive for people who support the actions of the US military in Iraq. It seems that collateral damage, including collateral deaths) are somehow okay -- they are justified by the fact that they were caused unintentionally.
Interestingly, the US government did not let Merck off the hook because the deaths Vioxx caused were caused unintentionally. So, why do we let Bush and the US military he controls off the hook when the sometimes substantial numbers of civilian deaths are caused unintentionally. Those who wish to let the Bush off the hook seem to think that collateral damage is inevitable in war and if the cause is just, the civilian deaths are justified as well. "War is hell," we say from the comfort of our homes (which are not being bombed.)I don't mean to be beating up on the U. S. Military. It is my understanding that there are protocols that must be run through before the U.S. Military would attack a military target in a civilian area. However, there must come a time -- we might call it "The Vioxx Moment" when we say that "enough is enough" and simply stop the killing. In the case of the current Iraq war, we have, in my view, reached The Vioxx Moment. It is a war founded on a set of lies or mistakes -- Saddam has WMD (mistake -- almost everyone believed he had at least chemical weapons); Saddam was aiding terrorists who are harming or will harm Americans (lie -- ask the CIA); Saddam was trying to buy nuclear materials from Niger (very intentional lie); Saddam was a danger to his neighbors (lie -- the destruction of his army in the first war and the two "no fly" zones precluded that), etc. This fact -- the fact that the American people were deliberately misled -- must surely up the ante for those who believe "we must stay the course," a phrase that has assumed mythic stature in America, it seems.
Right now the reported civilian deaths in Iraq appear to run between 23601 and 26719. Add to that the the fact that the U.S. military has suffered nearly 1900 deaths and the coalition as a whole has lost over 2000 men and women. Almost as distressing are the very large number of people who are injured, sometimes disastrously so since they must live with lost limbs and eyes and the like for many years. By now there have been 14,021 injured according to official figures. It is estimated that many more have been injured than this.
In my opinion it is time to leave. "That would lead to chaos," Bush and his neocon friends would tell us. The fact is that no matter what we do, Iraq is going to settle down into a very long struggle between the three main factions. My prediction before the war was that the Kurds would ultimately use their quite large militia to take and hold their traditional areas including much or all of the northern oil fields and the Shiites will do much the same in the southern area. The Sunnis will fight to gain as much control over as large an area as they can. They have ruled Iraq for a long time and will settle for nothing less. It would be lovely if a genuine democracy of some sort could be created in Iraq but it ain't gonna happen.
In any event, let us be as clear as possible on this point. "Collateral deaths" are real deaths. The persons involved are no less dead for being unintentionally killed. A sufficient number of deaths have occurred to warrant the conclusion that we have reached The Vioxx Moment.