Dec 08, 2004
I have seen all the references and links to the Beckner-Posner blog, but I have avoided going there and reading it. It just seemed like it was one more thing that would take up my time with arguably marginal benefit. However, I am awake at 5:00 AM, for reasons unknown and decided what the hell. So, I followed a link from Heidi's blog to this entry on Judge Posner's.
Heidi more thoroughly attacks the logic and I recommend her post. However, the first paragraph of Judge Posner's post really got to me and I felt the need to comment upon it. He said:
The U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S. decision not to invade Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks, and concern with the apparent efforts of Iran and North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons raise acutely the question when if ever a preemptive or preventive war is justified. If “preemptive war” is defined narrowly enough, it merges into defensive war, which is uncontroversial; if you know with certainty that you are about to be attacked, you are justified in trying to get in the first blow. Indeed, the essence of self-defense is striking the first blow against your assailant. [emphasis added]
I absolutely used to subscribe to that belief. Indeed, I recall one time, as a newlywed, I was sitting in a bus with my new wife while we were touring Europe on our honeymoon. She was making fun of a man outside the bus who was picking his nose. He reacted violently and tried to force his way onto the bus (thankfully, our driver was alert and shut and locked the door). I turned to her and in my best "I'll defend you, you weak helpless woman, you" mode moved her away from the aisle. After the ruckus settled down, I opined to her that I would prefer that she not do that again as I would feel compelled to hit the other person, for the same reason I italicized in Posner's quote above.
Years earlier, in my efforts to appear less effeminate (and, consequently more macho), I had been on the US Navy boxing team. So, I had learned how to hit someone, aggressively. Years later, however, along with my three daughters I studied martial arts. Oddly, the philosophy of the latter was to NOT fight. In both, however, the very first thing you learned was how to block and parry -- not how to strike. You learned defense.
I now subscribe to the belief that you protect yourself with all rational means short of striking. Use your intelligence, develop methods of blocking and parrying, be prepared to strike back -- and do so with certainty when called upon -- but do NOT strike first, under any circumstance. I am fairly certain that the families of the people who died on 9/11 would argue with me that if we had known what was going to happen on that horrible day, we should have followed Posner's implicit advice above and invaded Afghanistan, prior. I disagree. That's easy for me to say, sitting here safely in my armchair and knowing that I did not have anyone close to me die on that day, or indeed in any of the wars since. Nevertheless, I have been in harm's way before. I know what it's like to fear imminent death and I know what it's like to look down the barrel of a gun, prepared to take another's life (thankfully, I was not forced to pull the trigger). I would still not strike first. Ever.
Who we are depends upon how we do things. At worst, I advocate Tit-for-Tat.
I think Heidi argues essentially the same thing, only with better reason and logic. My opinion here is purely an instinctive reaction.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Not Cheating:
An excellent point. Posner seems to think that "justified" is the same thing as "passes cost-benefit analysis". Yet the point of comparison, which he blithely takes for granted, is hugely important. The question is not, is this better than doing nothing. It is, is this better than the alternatives.
Posted by: Heidi | Dec 8, 2004 7:07:25 AM
With respect to Afghanistan, we did give the Taliban a short time in which they could have turned over bin Laden to us, and they refused to do so. Our invasion essentially was a retaliation for that and an attempt to nab bin Laden, even if we retrospectively think of it as "Tit for Tat" for 9/11. In reality, the Taliban were not in favor of attacking the U.S., because they knew it would have negative consequences for themselves. Moreover, they hadn't given bin Laden free rein out of charity; he gave them a great deal of money in return.
Regarding Iraq, I think that calling that preventive war -- at least if we are talking about the WMDs -- is giving Bush too much credence. Bush regarded Saddam Hussein himself as the intolerable threat. Even if Saddam had been frank about the state of his weapons program, I don't think Bush would have left him in power if he (Bush) had been able to get Congressional support for his overthrow.
And yet I cannot subscribe to the idea that one should do everything short of striking first in all situations. I firmly believe that the United States had a moral obligation to overthrow the Nazi government when we first began to know about the Holocaust, and that we had a similar obligation to stop the Rwandan genocide. Those were not wars against the U.S., but they were wars on whole groups of people who apparently couldn't defend themselves and thus needed someone to step in.
Situating near your analogy of a potential fistfight, I'd see it like my response if I saw someone beating a child. My first attempts would be to try to stop it verbally, or just to restrain the assaulter, but if it looked like the only way to end the abuse was to disable that person physically, I would do it. (Well, theoretically. In reality, I probably would try to do it, the person would hit me and I'd be on the ground yelling at the kid to run.)
Posted by: PG | Dec 15, 2004 12:17:22 AM