What to do if you happen by a university peace rally in order to teach naive college students who have not experienced war in their lifetime why force is sometimes needed :

  1. Approach naive young student chanting about "peace" and saying there should be, "no retaliation."
  2. Engage in brief conversation, ask if they think military force is appropriate in response to attack killing over 6,000 people.
  3. When he says "No," ask, "Why not?"
  4. Wait until he says something to the effect of, "Because that would just cause more innocent deaths, which would be awful and we should not cause more violence."
  5. When he's in mid sentence, punch him in the face as hard as you can.
  6. When he gets back up to punch you, point out that it would be a mistake and contrary to his values to strike you, because that would, "be awful and he should not cause more violence."
  7. Wait until he agrees with you that since he has pledged not to commit additional violence it would not be right for him to strike you back.
  8. Punch him in the face again, harder this time.
  9. Repeat steps 5 through 8 until they understand that sometimes it is necessary to punch back.

Credit for this goes to a retired Navy Chief.

Let's leave aside the fact that a person who carries out these steps is basically acting no better than the KKK at a 60's civil rights demonstration. Or that by using violence to make a point, this hypothetical person is in effect admitting that he lacks the vocabulary to make himself understood by any other means. Instead of this, let's point out all the things that are wrong with this from a logical point of view, because if I deviate from cold logic then I'll slip into ranting.

Re-read step four. There are a couple of assumptions made there:

  1. That "Because ... we should not cause more violence." is an effective summary of his argument.

  2. The person referred to as 'you' in the above writeup is not prepared to listen.

That most certainly doesn't sound like your average noder. So let's assume that this retired navy chief correctly predicted the arguments of a naïve student, and continue to step 6, assuming you punched him in mid-sentence (now you'll never know what his argument was! Damn!):

When he gets back up to punch you, point out that it would be a mistake and contrary to his values to strike you, because that would, "be awful and he should not cause more violence."

The assumptions made here?

  1. He wants to punch you back.

  2. That his values include non-violence at any price.

The latter is called a hasty generalization, and it's one of those logical fallacies. You have this naïve student's opinion on one issue: the use of force in retaliation for the WTC terrorist attack, and the killing of > 6,000 people. From here, we have cleverly extrapolated his entire philosophy and world-view, and decided that he must be against the use of force, no matter what.

I could go on: step seven is obviously stupid. Most naïve students protest with their naïve friends, and (as with most demonstrations) there will be witnesses, like the police, not to say Lawyers' Guild people - and the best place for patriotic (and violent) Americans is not in prison - it is in the army.

The last thing I should say is this: The American government responds to the terrorists attack by:

  1. Ascertaining who is responsible.

  2. Attacking the people who are responsible.

Now, for what it's worth, I approve of this1, 2. But one thing which nobody except maybe the Taliban wants to see is Americans beating the shit out of each other. Right?

1: At least, I did. Briefly. (added 06/11/01)
2: Now undecided. See The dangers of being open minded. (added 21/11/01)

If I were acting like the United States, and you did this to me, I would not punch you back immediately. Nor would I wonder why it is you want to cause me harm, or what sort of measures I could take to keep you from punching me again, though I might rifle through a few other people in the line's bag in the name of security.

I would instead get several large friends, and we would all arm ourselves to the teeth. We would then find a house we didn't like. It might be the house you live in, but that would not be the most important thing to us. We would then threaten to destroy the house if the people in the house did not give you to us to exact justice upon. Claims that you did not live there would be ignored, as would offers for your parents to punish you themselves. We would then proceed to shoot the hell out of the house, even if the house had been leveled previously and was nothing but a foundation. We'd try to aim for people we don't like, but we're notoriously bad shots.

On the plus side, if your little brother ran out of the house screaming, we'd give him a sandwich, so perhaps some good would come of it.


Of course, were it me in the above situation, and a retired Navy Chief started punching me I would certainly not start hitting back; I would run away and hide, or perhaps call for the police. Navy Chiefs usually have a lot more hand to hand training then me, but I can probably run faster then a retired one.

Sometimes the better part of valor is more important...

Ahh... it's been ages since I contributed to a debate node. Game on!

I personally find the above example to not be a fair comparison against the September 11 attacks. The key is that, should someone walk up to you and punch you, you know two very important things - who did it (the pugilist) and where s/he is (right in front of you). And that leaves the protester (myself, since I'm still tentatively against the recent attacks on Afghanistan, pending further details) with two options.

The first is you can punch the offender. This fits in perfectly with the belief that innocents should not be punished, since it's pretty clear who's guilty of what, right? Just make sure you can swing a fist around without accidentally smacking a bystander in the face.

But, hopefully, you wouldn't need to do that... I mean, his family might come after you, thinking you started the fight, or that he was just being playful as a kitten, or whatever. Hopefully, there'll be police around. And the attacker could then simply and effectively be brought to justice. That's part of the point of having a justice system, you know - in theory and usually in practice, the justice system is how you avoid a circle of violence. Bring in an impartial judge, set up laws that are inviolate for all parties involved. Guarantee a high level of fairness. Determine fault and sentence accordingly and evenhandedly. Sure, sometimes the system is unfair, and sometimes (especially depending on the chosen judgement) the violence will continue anyways, but it's the best idea out there. Take this high-voltage circuit of violence and short it into the ground. That's justice for you..

Very rarely do you find someone who doesn't think that the people behind the terrorist attacks should be brought before a fair trial. Usually the complaints will be, in order, that we don't know exactly who did this to us, we don't know where we can find these people, and the trial will be grossly unfair... but if those problems can be solved (and they can be, with enough worldwide scrutiny and deliberate pacing), then it's on, brother.

Quick aside - yes, Virginia, there are those who would consider the attackers to be innocent, only reacting to what ills the United States have perpetrated on them. To those apologists, I proclaim 'poppycock'. Yes, the United States has made many moves of questionable (at best) morals, and we need to answer for them. But a terrorist attack is still a terrorist attack. Justice For All.

So, in closing, I'd like to bring up the the following scenario, to see if it fits the situation at hand more closely...

You're out, walking around (as everyone does in this hypothetical Town X), when suddenly, a sniper opens fire. Fifteen, sixteen dead, everyone frightened out of their wits. It doesn't take long to see that the shots came from the direction of a group of buildings where a few nutters with guns live. One of the nutters is particularly famous for making weekly threats about killing the townspeople... but he's friends with the asshole landlords who run the building, and they won't let anyone in to have a word with this guy (who denies any wrongdoing, but enjoys the bloodbath immensely). And this guy's got some of the tenants on his side, too. So... what do you do? Destroy the buildings, and punish everyone living in them, regardless of what they've done? Swoop in and try and capture the guy, and have to contend with the asshole landlords and the tenants who like him? They ain't gonna give him up, no matter what evidence you bring, you know. What if someone who likes this guy decides to grab a rifle and try their luck at popping pedestrians? Now, there's a good amount of circumstantial evidence that this guy's the one, but what if it's all just... circumstantial? Townspeople are out for blood, and they might not agree with this 'insufficient evidence' ruling. You can clear off the streets, force people to stay in their homes and live like rats, but that doesn't change the fact that there's a guy out there with a gun. Maybe you could do nothing, claim that 'non-violence is the best answer'. So the gunman gets bored and starts shooting again, and you've solved nothing except maybe your annoying neighbor got whacked this time around. So what do you do?

Here's one thing you can do. You can beware of simple solutions to complex problems.

There is one small point worth adding to this discussion, as I haven't seen it mentioned yet: an important logical fallacy in the retired Navy Chief's "method". It's subtle, but pervasive, and here it is: the "method" purposefully confuses concepts of defense and retaliation. Ignoring obvious situational problems already mentioned (the activist could leave, call out to his friends, or get the cops), the "method" suggests that defense=offense. While there can be much truth to this statement, it ignores a problem with the sequence of events in both the "method" and the WTC attacks.

We cannot protect ourselves from the WTC tragedy, because it already happened. The activist is right: punching the Navy Chief back after being struck the first time solves nothing. However, the activist is a very stupidly written character (a sign of the Navy Chief's weak argument), and in reality should simply leave. Striking the Navy Chief would, in no way, protect the activist from being punched the first time. However, if he's a clever activist and truly understands the differences between defense and retaliation (and doesn't feel like leaving at this point), he'll agree that non-violence is the best way, but strike first and faster the next time the Navy Chief tries any funny stuff. This is defense. Protecting oneself offensively prior to a known impending attack is a very valid defense, should it become impossible to escape. Avoiding retired Navy Chiefs like the plague is an even more valid defense.

When a person attacks you, they are at their most vulnerable. After the attack, they are quite ready for whatever response you prepare. Osama bin Laden is trying to draw us into a carefully constructed narrative in which the U.S. will play the role of the Great Demon, the villain that the Jyhad must destroy. He is at his most protected now. He is quite safe.

The WTC tragedy has more to do with airport security than radical religious aggression, because radical religious aggression will always exist. You can hunt down one terrorist, but the truth is that you solve no problems. If you bomb the country the terrorist is hiding in, you create many new problems.

In fact, radical religious aggression will grow if we ever succeed in killing bin Laden. From this, we can see how clearly defense does not always equal offense. It may often be an important tactic in personal scenarios (second only to running or getting the police), as a means to avoid harm if one is cornered and no other options are possible. However, this is not a safe metaphor when applied to nations. We cannot see the world's nations as a group of people who occasionally scuffle. We can conceivably protect ourselves from future attacks, but the way to do this is the core of the debate. Retaliation can never protect us from previous harm, only lowers us to the level of the attacker.

The "method" recognizes only one solution, but the skill is all in the framing of the scenario so that the listener ignores all the obvious options. By calling an attack on Afghanistan a defensive measure, we lie. It is a retaliation fueled by desire of vengeance. Now, I'm not here to debate the morality of vengeance: let's just call a pig a pig. If we argue for vengeance by calling it defense, we are not.

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