If the cost of this action taken by Hawkeye is the unnecessary surgical procedure on a healthy body, no matter the manner of the man, and the benefit is the "probable" saving of the lives of 100's of soldiers, it, at first glance, would appear that the morally correct action to take would be to operate on the overaggressive battalion commander. The procedure may have been invasive but the risk for the commander was minimal and lives would be saved. Act Utilitarianism maintains "that actions and policies are right when they produce the greatest net benefit/lowest net cost". The rightness or wrongness of individual actions is defined in terms of the good or bad consequences realized by those actions themselves. The commander definitely suffered undesirable consequences; the unknown benefit cannot really be considered because we will never know if any soldier's life was saved. Perhaps someone more aggressive could have been sent to take his place while he was recovering from the surgery. The results would have been the opposite and far worse consequences may have resulted than those he had intended. Given that the benefits are vague, the action cannot be considered from cost/benefit analysis perspective.
This straightforward dramatization fails to offer sufficient information to truly determine if surgery was a moral choice or not. Having seen this particular episode many times, I always understood Hawkeye's motives. I, however, always agreed with BJ. Operating on a healthy body must be regarded and deemed unethical. A society must have a certain amount of trust and faith in the medical community; it is assumed all doctors will honor their obligation to use their skills and knowledge wisely, keeping their patients' best interest in mind at all times. Without that trust, we would quickly succumb to many illnesses and diseases and rapidly cease to exist.
As an avid fan since the show's 1970s inception, it was interesting to watch Hawkeye, from the beginning to the very end, wrestle with his deep hatred for war and all its evils. His greatest battle was in his inability to make it' stop, it being the war, something that was completely out of his control. He never stopped fighting to bring the killing to an end.
I feel that war is such a difficult time and many people find themselves doing a multitude of things that they would never have considered doing had there not been a war. I appreciate the "Just War Theory"; however, I still find it difficult to reconcile myself to the purposeful slaughter of any sentient being. Mind you, violence of any nature, in my opinion, should not be something we do to one another and presently; we live in a world wrought with wholesale violence, whether it is insidiously worming itself into our psyche through the vast media machine or in the name of political struggles'. Hawkeye's vengeful approach to "leveling the playing field" (or in this case, the killing field) was aggressive and invasive and more likely resulted in the possible saving of 100s of soldiers lives, not probable, or perhaps resulting in saving only a few lives. So, the end that justified the means was certainly good for those lucky few and their families and friends. But, on the other hand, who is to say they did not die on another day? If this were to be the case, then the whole exercise was moot.
Unlike the example I use later, a good question to ask would be, did Hawkeye have any other choices that would have been less invasive and yielded, if not the same, but also more significant and/or...