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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Follow the Money

The subtle factors behind decisions that are made during wartime are often hidden even though they may have a substantial impact on many lives. Richard Woodman, in The Real Cruel Sea, describes the economic disincentive to form convoys of ships during World War I, even though there was substantial evidence that more ships were saved through this method. Ship owners were against the plan because ever since the introduction of the steam engine, they were no longer at the mercy of the wind and could sail on a regular schedule. Anything that might interfere with regular sailings would have an impact on their profits. Naval aficionados disliked the idea of using naval forces in a defensive manner. It was somehow less manly. But the most scurilous reason was that investors reaped enormous benefits from having a ship sunk. Since the government requisitioned the ships for war support, it would indeminify the ship investors should the ship be torpedoed. Even with an Excess Profits Tax, Mr. Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1917 described the substantial profits he made following liquidation of a ship. Meanwhile, the poor seaman had his wages stopped the minute the ship went down.

Follow the money, a Watergate dictum that we might wish to observe as more and more funding goes to Iraq.
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