The Fallacy of Preemptive Violence

Exclusive to STR

Throughout the numerous interactions I've had with people who disagree with my absolute opposition to war, I've found a great deal of consistency. Such persons do not argue against the destructive nature of war. They do not pretend that war doesn't result in large numbers of people dying. In fact, sometimes these are the very facts that my detractors use to support what I hear as the most frequent defense of war:

Daniel, it's not as if I like war, of course not, but the reality is, war is necessary.

This is generally said in a very defensive manner. Ironically, others apparently interpret my advocacy for peace as a threatening attack. Although there is irony given the terms, I certainly understand that my assertion does call into question the morality of others' actions, and thus, it does in fact threaten their masquerade of presenting that which is wrong as being right.

The inherent inconsistency of arguing that war is justified by its necessity can clearly be seen by specifying the actions of the individuals involved. If it is accepted that individuals initiating physical violence against other individuals is wrong (e.g., men hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings is wrong), how then can it be right to enact behavior that also involves individuals initiating physical violence against other individuals (e.g., men and women dropping explosives out of airplanes is right)?

What have the accomplices to the 9/11 attacks repeatedly stated as their purpose? In his remarks directed to the general citizenry of America , Osama bin Laden, the man recognized by those in the United States government as the leader of the hijackings, gives his answer:

"Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or Al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands," bin Laden said, referring to the president and his Democratic opponent. "Any state that does not mess with our security, has naturally guaranteed its own security."

Admitting for the first time that he ordered the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden said he did so because of injustices against the Lebanese and Palestinians by Israel and the United States.

"To the American people, my talk is to you about the best way to avoid another Manhattan ," he said. "I tell you: Security is an important element of human life and free people do not give up their security." (,2933,137095,00.html)

This form of argument sounds strikingly familiar, does it not? Osama bin Laden has publicly claimed that the deaths caused by his compatriots was in retaliation for the deaths that members of the U.S. and Israeli governments have caused. Going further still, bin Laden emphasizes that his main concern is for the security of other people that he feels are threatened by the individuals who identify themselves as the United States government.

Meanwhile, costumed individuals collectivized under the heading of the United States military have killed multiple times more people than died on 9/11, and all this has been done while stating that their actions are in retaliation for the deaths perpetrated by Osama's comrades. Like bin Laden himself, these people also claim that they are merely acting out of concern for the security of others whom they say they want to protect.

In this manner, both factions are caught in the paradox of trying to justify their initiation of violence by calling it preventative. The reality is that no matter how big the WMDs or how fearful people are for their "security," there is no such thing as preventative violence. Such an idea is as contradictory as preemptive rape. Ultimately, if initiating the use of force is morally wrong, then it is wrong for anyone, at anytime, in any place, and for any reason.

Once a person accepts that war is wrong, it will immediately become something to be stopped. This raises the natural question of how to end war. For one answer, I turn to Howard Zinn and his aptly titled book A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.

We must recognize that we cannot depend on the governments of the world to abolish war, because they and the economic interests they represent benefit from war. Therefore, we, the people of the world must take up the challenge. And although we do not command armies, we do not have great treasuries of wealth, there is one crucial fact that gives us enormous power: the governments of the world cannot wage war without the participation of the people. Albert Einstein understood this simple fact. Horrified by the carnage of the First World War in which 10 million died in the battlefields of Europe , Einstein said: "Wars will stop when men refuse to fight."

That is our challenge, to bring the world to the point where men and women will refuse to fight, and governments will be helpless to wage war.

Is that utopian? Impossible? Only a dream?

Do people go to war because it is part of human nature? If so, then we might consider it impossible to do away with war. But there is no evidence, in biology, or psychology, or anthropology, of a natural instinct for war. If that were so, we would find a spontaneous rush to war by masses of people. What we find is something very different: we find that governments must make enormous efforts to mobilize populations for war. They must entice young people with promises of money, land, education, skills. Immigrants are lured with promises of green cards and citizenship. And if those enticements don't work, government must coerce. It must conscript young people, force them into military service, threaten them with prison if they do not comply.

Woodrow Wilson found a citizenry so reluctant to enter the First World War that he had to pummel the nation with propaganda and imprison dissenters in order to get the country to join the butchery going on in Europe .

The most powerful weapon of governments in raising armies is the weapon of propaganda, of ideology. It must persuade young people, and their families, that though they may die, though they may lose arms or legs, or become blind, that it is done for the common good, for a noble cause, for democracy, for liberty, for God, for the country.

The idea that we owe something to our country goes far back to Plato, who puts into the mouth of Socrates the idea that the citizen has an obligation to the state, that the state is to be revered more than your father and mother. He says: "In war, and in the court of justice, and everywhere, you must do whatever your state and your country tell you to do, or you must persuade them that their commands are unjust." There is no equality here: the citizen may use persuasion, no more. The state may use force.

This idea of obedience to the state is the essence of totalitarianism. And we find it not only in Mussolini's Italy , in Hitler's Germany , in Stalin's Soviet Union , but in so-called democratic countries, like the United States .

I accept Zinn's goal as my own, that is, bringing people to the point where they "will refuse to fight, and governments will be helpless to wage war." Every day that I remain in the military against my will, my situation serves to dispel the myth that the American military today is an "all volunteer force." I do not report for duty by choice; I do so under the threat of imprisonment. Also, despite the fact that I report for duty, I refuse to fight. The reality is that even if every individual who currently works for any military showed up tomorrow for work but refused to fight, that would be the end of war and not a drop of blood would be shed.

Chances are that you are not considered a member of any military. Nevertheless, without your support and the support of those like you, the people who call themselves government would be impotent to continue the destruction that is war. I have taken my stand against an immoral act that is cloaked in the vagaries of patriotism, honor, courage, duty, and, the rationale most referenced to me, "necessity." The question is now, what will you do?

Your rating: None
Daniel Lakemacher's picture
Columns on STR: 2