Anyone who is neither evil nor wacky rejoiced at the return of Gilad Shalit to his family after five years in captivity. Anyone who is not naïve also felt emotions ranging from concern to trepidation, and even grief and anger at the release of terrorists which secured his freedom. One can wish the Shalit family well and still think that Israel’s actions were terribly wrong. Over the past few days, I have heard numerous conversations which sound something like this: “What do you think?” “Of course I’m happy, but…” Quite frankly, my own feelings were running too deep to write down my thoughts. So, I am grateful that my son wrote down some of his and is allowing me to share them. I found myself appreciating his suggestion that, for just a short while, we focus solely on the Shalit’s joy. At the same time I think he makes an important point well worth pondering.
This morning witnessed the return of a son of Israel, Gilad Schalit, after almost five and a half years of captivity. I do not want to discuss whether the exchange of one man for over one thousand terrorists with the blood of hundreds of Jews on their hands was a wise one. There will be a time for that, but today is not that day. Today is a day for Jews to unite and share in the joy of the Schalit family and of all of Klal Yisrael (the community of Jews).
But, these events have brought to my attention a disturbing viewpoint that I believe needs addressing. Facebook is currently filled with statuses such as these:
No price is too high!
One Jew is worth any number of terrorists!
Some of you are disgusting! Stop focusing on the bad implications of the trade! Our brother is coming home!
I have no doubt that their motivations were entirely pure, but statements such as these capture a fundamental problem that lies at the root of many of the poor policies implemented in both Israel and the United States.
You may have heard a similar idea expressed with regards to another policy. For example, “Even if the number of deaths caused by drunk drivers decreases to one person per year, that would still be one person too many.” Or, “Of course we should put nets up on the sides of the Golden Gate Bridge! If it stops just ONE person from committing suicide then it will have been worth it.”
The flaw in these arguments is only looking at the benefits and disregarding, or worse not even considering, the costs. If one death from drunk driving were really one too many, then I have a very simple plan that could be implemented to guarantee an end to all motor vehicle related collisions: Ban motor vehicles. Or, if you’d rather, install speed governors on all motor vehicles in the United States limiting their speeds to 5mph. Think of the benefits! No deaths from motor vehicle collisions (the leading cause of death in the US for people 5-34)! Reduced carbon dioxide production! However, no one in their right mind would implement this, because…wait for it…THE COST IS TOO HIGH.
All suicides must be prevented? How much are you willing to contribute from your paycheck to erect nets at every elevated point in your city? $10? $100? $1,000? I’m not sure what the point is, but I guarantee you that at a certain point it is no longer worth the cost to you. Especially considering that the money could also be spent in another manner, perhaps a more effective one, to prevent suicides. Once again, THERE IS A COST.
When seat-belts and airbags were made standard equipment, required by federal law, in all cars in the United States, the motivations were pure. After all, who could possibly be against saving lives? But did anyone consider the corresponding price increase of those cars? Did anyone consider the newly arrived, poor immigrant who would be more than happy to drive a car without airbags that fits his budget? Or the tax increase needed to pay for the new airbag inspectors and the bureaucrats needed to implement the new policy? Honestly, I don’t know. But the point is, that THERE IS A COST.
With regards to Gilad, once again, there is a point at which the price is too high. I do not know what that point is, perhaps this deal is beyond that point, and perhaps it is not. For the purposes of this piece, it is irrelevant. However, every decision has a cost, and unless that cost is truly considered and weighed against the benefits, a wise decision cannot possibly be made.