What about penicillin?
The number of lives that penicillin and associated cheap antibiotics have saved is spectacularly high, especially in Third World countries. You could mount an argument – not knowing the facts, I’m unsure as to the outcome – that penicillin, in some sort of macabre utilitarian calculus, is somehow worth the Holocaust and Hiroshima combined.
I’m not saying this poses an intractable problem to anarchism – after all, most anarchists don’t base their position on utilitarian grounds. Autonomy is sacrosanct, a life saved does not outweigh a life taken, etc. Still, it’s an interesting point, and one that robs the most confronting anarchist argument of some credibility.
Perhaps it’s possible to argue that most of the lives penicillin saves are endangered by state policies in the first place; that our modern state apparatus tends to fix some of its own problems and use that as justification for existing in the first place. Without armed policemen, who will save us from thugs and bandits? And so forth. This seems more tenuous though. There’s something about a list of the dead that brings out the rebel in all of us, the voice that says ‘this cannot stand’. It’s harder to bring that rebel out in a debate about economic policy in the Third World.