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William Stuntz, 1958-2011

12:00 AM, Mar 16, 2011 • By ADAM J. WHITE
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Harvard Law School professor William Stuntz passed away on Monday at the age of 52. He was widely admired by faculty and students, but readers of THE WEEKLY STANDARD would know him better as an author of essays. In September 2006, at the lowest point in the Iraq War, in the face of ever-increasing calls for withdrawal, Stuntz called for a surge. In an article titled, "Will We Choose To Win In Iraq?," he argued:

[W]hen the United States is engaged in a battle with a vicious enemy whose victory will produce death and enslavement on a massive scale, it is a crime of historic proportions to lose the fight because the resources devoted to the battle were insufficient. That would have been inconceivable six decades ago. It ought to be inconceivable now.

... The territory over which we fight is among the most strategically important in the world. Victory will place the most dangerous regime on the planet, Iran's fascist theocracy, in serious peril. Defeat will leave that same regime inestimably strengthened. If there is any significant possibility that the presence of more American soldiers on the ground in Iraq would raise the odds of success, not putting those soldiers on the ground is a crime. Taking away the ones who are already there would be an atrocity.

He followed that up two months later with another call to surge, "Doubling Down in Iraq." And he wrote several other essays for THE WEEKLY STANDARD, on issues of domestic policy.

As Erin Sheley reported in an article last year, Professor Stuntz's contributions to the field of criminal law were so widely respected that Harvard Law School hosted a two-day symposium celebrating his work. And according to the obituary published today by the law school, Harvard University Press will posthumously publish his book on the collapse of America's criminal justice system.

Bill Stuntz's work was all the more impressive given that his last years of work were burdened by cancer. He chronicled his struggles with the disease on a law blog that he co-authored with Pennsylvania law professor David Skeel, posting reflections on the foreboding signs of cancer's spread, and meditations on the therapeutic value of work. In his final post, after another disappointment last August, he wrote:

This latest news brings to mind a common phrase: people in my circumstances often say they’re living “on borrowed time.” (Whenever I hear that, I wonder: how do they intend to pay it back?) I’ve never quite understood the metaphor. My time is more gift than debt. Two-and-a-half years ago, I was told my life expectancy was two years. I’m already past my expiration date, with more time—several months at the least—to come. Viewed that way, I’m in astonishingly good shape: teaching this fall, finishing my book, enjoying time with my family. I have little cause for complaint, and much cause for gratitude. So it seems from my world. Even in the wake of bad news.

We can only aspire to face mortality with even a fraction of the bravery and dignity that he did.

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