One day, while passing a group of professors at school, I heard the most ridiculous defense of preemptive war from one of them. Mind you, this argument came after he criticized the United States for waging a war of aggression against Iraq. Anyways, he essentially stated that, “If you find out that someone has it out for you in a bar the best thing for you to do is punch them in the face the first chance you get so they don’t see it coming.” Of course, this would still count as an act of aggression and you would still be charged with assault, but this is beside the main point.
First, you can’t really compare today’s wars to a silly bar fight. Battles aren’t fought in a vacuum, and modern weaponry makes it impossible for civilians to remain comparatively unaffected by slaughter. Modern warfare involves bombs being dropped on wedding parties, village centers, and strings of city blocks—all of which inevitably kills countless innocent civilians. Meanwhile, the economic consequences of war are felt by everyone as redistribution of resources to the military and economic sanctions reduce everyone’s standard of living. Those who survive the explosive and economic destruction will often seek retribution, leading to an unintended cycle of violence. So, if we must compare war to a bar brawl, a more realistic analogy is necessary.
Let’s begin with Tom finding out that Bill wants to assault him. Tom knows Bill visits a local bar and devises a plan to kill Bill first, just as in the professor’s example. So Tom then constructs a pipe bomb, places it in the bar, and detonates it. Tom achieves his goal of killing Bill, but he also kills one half and wounds the other half of the bar’s customers. Bill’s family and friends and every other victim of the bomb now want retribution against Tom. The cycle of violence continues. This is a much better analogy for the way the U.S. wages preemptive war in the Middle East.
Still, violence waged in the private world pales in comparison to the destruction caused by our government’s wars. The fighting between Tom and Bill is confined to themselves and victims of one, “small” bomb. No one is taxed or drafted and money is not counterfeited for use in this conflict. No random person would pledge their allegiance to Tom or the memory of Bill. The same cannot be said for real preemptive war.
This was originally posted at my blog.Published in