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Pre-emptive Strike: Rationalizing Brute Force

February 3, 2010

Pre-emptive Strike: Rationalizing Brute Force


I have often wondered what really defines what self defense is. After enduring the complaints from co-worker years ago about how his conviction for assault was actually self defense it struck that this guy had no idea. He saw that his attack upon a victim with the aide of several friends was defensible because the person had reacted to his provocations. In a twisted way it was his “they drew first blood” excuse to pound this victim mercilessly. Fortunately the judge had a different view and imposed a jail term.


To look at the world through the eyes of my co-worker was to see the world in terms of strength and weakness. That was about as far as he could think. Empathy extended only as far as his next toughest mate. The weak were fools deserving of their fate and should be treated without mercy. Their very weakness was an affront to his power struggle oriented world and coupled with his prejudices and bigotries the weak were also seen as a threat. A perfectly logical conclusion for the mind that believes that brute force wins every struggle.


Perfect logic will never produce a system of identical moralities in every person because such logic must start somewhere. Even if someone has a doctorate there is no guarantee of where their logical conclusions will go until we know what starting point they are coming from. Starting from a false position such as prejudice will propagate the same error throughout any system of values. The logic may be perfect from that point on but any conclusions will be still tainted with the false assumptions at it’s incept. Garbage in creates garbage out. To relate this to my co-worker is to say that he had the preconception that personal power is god and had built his entire logic of existence upon that premise. Was he right to start with this supposition when he had limited information to draw that conclusion? Perhaps he chose that position out of the comfort of his own prejudices that were rarely challenged due to his aggressive and violent nature towards critics.


I mentioned this character in my life because I found him to be an example of an attitude that perpetuates in all levels of society. The co-worker was a bully and brute but he was also illiterate and ignorant that in the real power struggles he would be little more than cannon fodder for someone higher up the pecking order of brutality. Sure he was totally immersed in the logic of brute force to protect him self but so are many others who have never been before a judge or served a jail sentence. Dressed up in any words the notion of absolute and brutal power has many followers from ordinary illiterates to professors. The very notion of torture is based upon the premise that information can and should be extracted by brute force under certain circumstances. The subject has information that they refuse to divulge; the interrogator wants the information; the interrogator chooses torture as the means of persuasion. The torturer is of the belief that eventually his brutal method will force the subject to divulge the information he requires. This is perfectly logical to the torturer because his initial premise of “we have ways of making you talk” was taken as true. If the subject yields only false or misleading information what does that say about the initial premise? What if the subject and victim are tortured endlessly and yield no answers? What does that say about the notion of brute force being the ultimate weapon and power?


Rhetorical as it may seem these are important questions to ask before any nation starts to believe that Might is Right or Brute Force will produce respect and cowering fear. The attitude does exist in throw away lines that people use like: We should blow this nation back to the stone-age; we should hit them now before they get strong enough to hit us; we cannot show weakness to our enemy or they will be emboldened. These attitudes may have been arrived at in a rational and logic manner but if the original premise that they are based upon is false then they are rationally choosing the irrational. If brute force is a false premise then choosing it, regards of how it is rationalized, will be disastrous.


The notion of pre-emptive strike is not new and has been used by invading armies for millennia. Rome completely destroyed Carthage to prevent it from rising up to challenge its empire. Hitler often spoke about how others were provoking his nation into war. China invaded Tibet and called it liberation. Napoleon invaded many nations to spread his version of a world without royalty. The list could go on and on but rationalizations are basically the same. Invasions were done for the so called ‘greater good’ that the invaders had defined themselves. The greater good argument is a common rationalization for any invasion as it does not have to contend with external problems like the morality of using terrible means to achieve this good. Brute force is deemed to be morally pure if it is used for the ‘greater good’. “The ends justify the means.”


How do we prevent any brutality if there is a ‘greater good’ exit clause on a morality that sees it as repugnant? In essence we are being told that by doing evil will be creating more good. To me this seems like a concept that defines the irrationality of insanity. Yet it is the same concept as saying that War Creates Peace; War is Peace; After the Revolution we will have our Paradise. If cluster bombs, napalm, torture and firing squads are not the weapons of peace what is their mechanism to finding peace? To find a justification will require a premise to build a logical answer. False or otherwise the logic can be built on this.


When a nation decides to invade another nation it is usually based upon a number of premises both false and true. Yet it is the litany of false premises that drive the warped ideology and presents it as the only logical answer. When each premise is shown to be false one by one we begin to strip away to the corner stone of why the invasion was ever considered. This originating corner stone premise is what drove the entire logic and can be as simple as prejudice or a complicated as another ideology. Yet the simple answer will be the same: We invaded this nation because our prejudices told us that they deserve this fate; our ideology told us that this was the right thing to do; or we just wanted own their wealth. This list can go own.


Put into a practical and modern example we have ever right to ask why the invasion of Iraq took place without being accused of treachery. We do have every right to understand not only the logic but the premises that drove the decision makers. As each premise falls apart in front of our eyes like the promise of a post Saddam Iraq paradise (another false premise) we must ask the hard questions about whether this Brute Force action should have ever have been taken in the first place. Examining the past for mistakes is not a red herring but a lesson to be learned. Out of it we can decide where we should repeat the same mistakes again.


Should we ever consider the concept of pre-emptive strike again? Or should it be consigned to the dustbin of history?

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