Thrawn Rickle 76

preemptive war

© 2004 Williscroft

General George S. Patton once said a soldier should not strive to die for his country, but rather should “...make the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

What is war? Why do we fight them? Is “civilized war” a meaningful concept? Can we realistically fight a war within a set of arbitrary rules?

Over the course of nearly a century, Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell tried to convince the world that violence was not an acceptable way to solve differences, not only that violence was unacceptable, but that we actually had better ways to solve problems that lead to war. Despite his brilliance and his passion, Russell could not effectively answer the question of what to do when attacked. His final answer seems to have been: “Do nothing,” and “Talk if possible.”

Clearly, one must survive the “do nothing” response to an attack in order to reach the “talk if possible” stage. In order for one person to survive a “Do nothing” response, someone else must not do nothing — someone else must respond to the attack, fight back. When the alternative is certain death, someone has to fight.

As children attending school for the first time, we quickly learn that some children try to impose their will on those around them. When other children don’t acquiesce, these little bullies initiate fights. Fortunately, higher authority in the form of a school teacher usually intervenes. When teacher isn’t around, we learn to appease or to fight. There are no alternatives.

As we progress through school and into life, the operant higher authority changes, but it is always there. As adults in a free society we look to the police and the courts to protect us from society’s bullies. It works pretty well. Most of us go through life virtually free from physical or emotional oppression. Some members of society become victims of crime, and others are controlled by domestic violence and threats of violence, but in the final analysis, all these have recourse to the courts, and — at least in principle — can receive justice.

What happens, however, when one nation is attacked by another? What happens when a Nazi Germany initiates a Blitzkrieg against an unsuspecting Poland, France, or Holland, or a helpless Belgium? What happens when a Pearl Harbor happens?

Often in discussions like this people get bogged down in the minutia surrounding such attacks. People start looking at motivation, provocation, retaliation, and other factors that always influence a nation’s actions. When we step away from these sidetracking arguments, however, to examine the simple fact of an attack itself, what can one group of people do when attacked by another?

The Bertrand Russells of the world would have us create a higher authority such as the United Nations, subject ourselves absolutely to this authority, and then turn to this authority in the face of such an attack. They naively believe that the offending nation will be brought to heel by the collective moral force of the rest of the world. Unfortunately, we have learned through bitter experience that the only way to ensure our survival as a nation of free people is to be prepared to fight to ensure the survival of that freedom.

We have no control over what an attacking enemy will use to propagate his violence. During the First World War we discovered that using poison gas and chemical nerve agents produced unacceptable consequences. Members of the civilized world agreed never to use these agents again. But for a nation that has already demonstrated its contempt for the rule of international law by initiating an unprovoked attack, how do you stop its employment of chemical warfare? The obvious answer is: You can’t. And so a nation must be prepared to defend against poison gas and nerve agents, even if it never intends to use them. Furthermore, in order to design an effective defense, a nation must create poison gasses, nerve agents, and other chemical horrors. Without these agents, you can’t design a defense. And so peace loving, freedom loving peoples find themselves creating terrible weapons, not because they want to, but because they cannot survive if they don’t.

Following World War II it became clear that a determined enemy that didn’t have the resources for building nuclear weapons could still create a weapon of mass destruction. By inoculating its own soldiers and people against a deadly contagious disease, and then by infecting a target nation with that disease, a nation — even a small nation — can bring another to its knees.

As with chemical agents, the only way a nation can protect itself from such an attack is to create as many esoteric diseases as possible, and then develop appropriate vaccines and treatments. Once again, peace loving, freedom loving peoples are forced by the world’s bullies to create terrible disease causing organisms simply in order to be safe from them.

Bertrand Russell and his followers were unable to get beyond the consequences of these terrible agents. They recoiled from the horror without ever coming to grips with the terrible irony that to be protected from them, we have no choice but to make them.

Another side of this entire argument is how to respond to an “inevitable attack” that has not yet happened, and the more complicated question of how to respond to an “attack” that has probably happened, a surreptitious strike using biologics or other forms of terror. To the first, Russell would have argued that you do nothing overt, but that you talk with the firm belief that such talk inevitably will defuse the forthcoming attack so that it does not happen. This argument sounds noble, but history demonstrates that delays brought about by such talks are just that, delays, delays that give a potential attacker additional time to prepare for any response.

Russell would also argue that talking sufficiently soon will defuse a situation that could lead to the surreptitious strike. No rational individual would disagree that such talks should be ongoing where they are possible. The important thing here, however, is that these talks must be absolutely productive, and not just a delaying tactic that allows the potential attacker to further his nefarious plans.

Waiting to be attacked when that attack is inevitable is as foolish as stepping into the street before a speeding car. The mythical gunfighter mentality of the Hollywood Western where the good guy waits for the bad guy to draw first is movieland fantasy. It makes no sense to risk losing, and in a potential war situation large scale civilian casualties, when preemptive action can stop the entire situation. To the Russells, this “escalation” by the good guys is even more unacceptable than a response to an initial attack. Russell would argue that such thinking by Japan led it to attack Pearl Harbor, to stave off what Japan believed was inevitable subjugation by the United States. He would have condemned the U.S. preemptive attack against Iraq as a violation of international law.

Russell’s present-day followers equate President Bush with Hitler and the other evil tyrants of history, without ever understanding this simple lesson. Inevitable subjugation or death is just that: inevitable. The only way to avoid such inevitability is to destroy the agent of that inevitability so that it no longer is inevitable.

These naďve people offer no viable alternative solution. Were we as free people to follow their counsel, we would inevitably be enslaved or killed by the tyrants waiting beyond our borders.

When the alternative is certain death, someone has to fight. If fighting sooner than later saves more innocent lives (read that as saves more lives of our people), then someone has to fight preemptively.