OPINION: James Bovard - Hacksawing the Economy: How Lockdowns Are in the Tradition of Civil War Surgeons

A Civil War amputation kit.
A Civil War amputation kit.
Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.

The political response to COVID-19 is eerily similar to Civil War surgeons’ rationales.

Amputation was the most common surgical practice during that war, and more than fifty thousand soldiers had limbs hacked off after battles. Amputation was a reflexive “solution,” because limbs were sometimes shattered by Minié balls and also because that was the only trick that many untrained “surgeons” knew. Surgeons were derided as butchers and were usually utterly negligent about hygiene, leading to far more unnecessary deaths.

Surgeons justified fetching out their hacksaws, because otherwise many soldiers would die from their gangrened wounds. It didn’t matter how many soldiers died from unnecessary or botched amputations as long as surgeons didn’t get blamed for deaths from gangrene.

Politicians in many states are justifying their COVID-19 shutdowns with rationales that resemble those surgeons’. It doesn’t matter how many individuals lose their jobs, businesses, or robust health due to the shutdowns. As long as politicians claim that things would be worse if they had not amputated much of the economy, they can pirouette as saviors.

Read more at Mises Wire


Deemed "the roving inspector general of the modern American state" by The Wall Street Journal, and the "anti-czar Czar" by The New York Times, Bovard is the author of 10 books including Public Policy Hooligan (2012), Attention Deficit Democracy (2007), Terrorism and Tyranny:  Tramping Freedom, Justice and Peace to Rid the World of Evil (2004), and The Farm Fiasco (1991).