The Science Changed
When the US invaded Iraq in order to protect itself from Sadaam Hussein’s WMDs, it got us into trouble. We squandered $6T in treasure and thousands of American soldiers’ lives while killing a million innocent Iraqis and losing any pretense toward moral standing we might once have claimed.
The other night someone I know was talking with an enthusiastic Biden supporter (yes, they really exist), and he defended Biden’s vote (and lobbying for that war) by saying no one knew at the time there were actually no WMDs. Let’s set aside that many people warned ahead of time this was likely the case, and concede Biden (and everyone else who voted for it) really did not know. Does that absolve them of responsibility for supporting the invasion?
In my view it does not. The problem isn’t that they were wrong, it’s that they were wrong *and* certain. Because in order to justify invading and destroying a sovereign country halfway across the world, you must be certain it’s an imminent threat. It is not enough that it’s a potential threat — everything and everyone is a *potential* threat — it must be imminent, and you must know for sure. But one cannot simultaneously know for sure and turn out to be wrong. The best you can say is you *thought* you knew for sure, but that it wasn’t actually the case. And when it comes to killing a million innocent people, “we thought so” or “we deemed it probable” ain’t gonna cut it.
A more recent example of this kind of justification for a catastrophically wrong decision was during the covid era wherein government officials mandated an untested mRNA injection on the general population that turned out not to stop the spread, to wane quickly and to have serious and not-so-rare side effects.
When it is pointed out those officials told people the vaccine was safe and would in fact stop the spread, loyalists were quick to defend them, arguing that “the science changed.” Again, let’s set aside that the Pfizer trials themselves never established effectiveness against spread, and that CDC director Rochelle Walensky admitted when she said “95% effective against the spread” she was just hoping that were the case, and assume for the sake of argument that they really did believe what they were saying given the available evidence. Doesn’t that absolve them of misleading people about the effectiveness and safety of the shot? No, it does not.
If the science changed, the science was changeable. And if the science was changeable, no matter what they believed at the time, they were never warranted in being certain. So again, it’s not merely that they were wrong — it’s that they were wrong, while purporting a certainty that they knew at the time was dishonest. And that would be the case no matter how much generosity you show them with respect to the earnestness of their claims about its efficacy, a generosity I personally do not think is warranted.
In sum, science is hard, and so is geopolitical diplomacy. It is unfair to charge decision-makers with the impossible task of being right all the time. But in order to cross uncrossable lines like starting wars of aggression, locking people in their homes or mandating injections, you must have absolute certainty, something that is virtually impossible. That’s why law-abiding governments do not do those things. The excuse that they didn’t know at the time is a hollow one. They didn’t know the unknowable, and yet they purported to know so they could do the unconscionable.
This is the mindset of a criminal or sociopath — making excuses for doing the things of which decent people would never dream.