I'm not sure about how much money they've spent in war as a result of the 9/11 attacks, but it seems to be a few trillions. I'm even less sure about how much lives would they have saved if they would have spent all that money in public health care, but perhaps someone else could give me a better idea. I'm sure there is some way to get an approximate number.

My guess is that a lot more lives than the lives lost in the 9/11 attacks. And even more if you also subtract the lives that were actually lost in war from the number of lives that are being potentially saved by war. If so, and as a secondary question, which arguments do politicians who supported war but not Obama's health reforms use? I'm sure there are plenty who do so, but this seems to me as a solid argument against supporting one and not the other since both things are promoted as ways of saving lives.

I doubt this is the first time this point is made. I'm really not much into politics and I'm sure there's already been a lot of debate around this, so I'd like to have a better idea of how is this aspect of the debate being handled on both sides.

Note that I'm not attempting to start a debate here, just get to know the main points that are currently made by politicians who are against Obama's health reform but who also support war.

  • 4
    Leaving aside all OTHER fallacies in your question, a vast majority of mainstream DNC politicians that are pro-Obamacare were also pro-War on Terror (Including pro-attacking Iraq). I'm leaving aside insignificant fringe group like Kusinich, who were decidedly a minority in DNC post-9/11. Mass DNC opposition to WoT started in 2004.
    – user4012
    Mar 7, 2014 at 22:46
  • The issues aren't really all that related. I don't think you could draw any meaningful comparison between money spent on one vs. the other not to mention all of the unknowns involved. (Would not have going to war caused more terrorist acts? Less? Who knows?)
    – user1530
    Mar 8, 2014 at 0:30

4 Answers 4



They would probably reject your implied claim that Obama's healthcare law will save lives.

One class of argument against this claim is that the law would introduce inefficiencies into the healthcare market. Obviously, that could harm people's ability to get healthcare or would waste money that could have been used to save lives. Some specific versions of the argument I've seen are:

  • It will harm the overall economy. This makes people poorer and would thus harm medical care in the long term.
    • Running the exchanges and enforcing the mandate requires bureaucracy and increases government waste.
    • The law puts incentives on employers to reduce employment to avoid the mandate.
    • The law increases effective marginal tax rates for employees (Washington Times editorial).
  • The law creates perverse incentives with respect to healthcare decisions. For example, the law subsidizes sicker people's insurance by forcing healthier people into the marketplace and forbidding insurance companies from discriminating against sick people. This reduces the incentive to take health-promoting actions (e.g. exercise), since more of the cost of illness is borne by others.
  • Bad implementation has caused millions of people to lose their insurance coverage, or to think they have signed up when they actually aren't, which could prevent them from getting healthcare. (Example: Ted Cruz's editorial)

Also recall the brouhaha over the "death panels" argument. While the more hyperbolic euthanasia claims have been refuted, you can still legitimately argue that said that expanding government control of healthcare would put bureaucrats in the position of rationing care.

War on Terror

I haven't read many arguments on this, but one I can immediately think of is that responding aggressively/preemptively to attacks supports a reputation that lets the US credibly threaten military action. That would discourage terrorist actors (directly or by encouraging foreign governments to crack down on terrorism) in the future. Even if the wars' net payoff is negative now, it may still be worth it.

Another is that deposing kleptocrats and promoting democracy would (for similar reasons) encourage rulers in other countries to liberalize, lest the US invade them. In terms of health, good governance would directly help people being oppressed, and others indirectly by aiding economic development

I'm not sure whether these arguments are correct in that the magnitude of the proposed effect outweighs the direct effects on health/military costs, but they are plausible and consistent.


Leaving aside heath care angle, you are working from a flawed premise that waging war doesn't save lives.

Had US/Britain/France attacked Germany in 1930s; a large portion of total of 50-80MM casualties of WWII could have been prevented by not allowing Germany to re-arm fully and then obtain extra industrial capacity by overrunning large chunks of Europe.

Similarly, the effective end state goal of Jihadis isn't worldwide peace. It's a large scale conflict resulting in restoration of Caliphate with pure Sharia - which in turn, if you look at history AND the fundamental premise behind Islamism, is anything but peaceful towards the rest of the non-Muslim world.

So, had Bin Laden have gotten his wish, it's eminently plausible that significantly more people would have died that have been killed by USA in "War on Terror".


This question assumed that the USA is putting guns before butter bandaids, and is spending not much money on health care because of all of its spending on war.

From this article, it can be seen that the US spends a lot of money on health care - more than many countries. The graph below looks at US$ PPP, but I'm pretty sure it has a comparatively high amount of spending on a % of GDP as well.

Graph of expenditure versus life expectancy


The problem with your question is that you have no way of knowing how many more lives were not lost in further terror attacks because of the war(s) spawned by the 9/11 attacks. So not only do you not know how many lives could have been saved by spending that money on healthcare, you don't even know how many lives would have been lost by not spending that money on war.

Most people who are against Obama's health reforms (myself included if you can't tell) are against the idea of the government being anywhere between involved in and in charge of healthcare. Conservatives (if I can go ahead and drop the ambiguity) believe that you should be free to spend your money how you see fit, not have it taken from you by the government in the form of taxes to be spent for you how that government sees fit in the form of entitlements/welfare/whatever. Therein lies the root of the disparity between liberals and conservatives.

  • 1
    One correction, with Obamacare, the government is not in charge of your healthcare. You still are paying money directly to an insurer (or through your employer).
    – user1530
    Mar 8, 2014 at 0:31

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