Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Vengeance vs. Self-Defense

I take "self-defense" to mean protecting oneself from attack.

What should I do if my defensive measures do not prevent an attack?

The usual answer, and the answer that guides U.S. foreign policy, is vengeance.

Obviously the federal government failed to defend us from an attack on 9/11, whether as the result of an intentional conspiracy ("inside job") or simple human failure.

I don't mean to downplay in any way the loss suffered by the families of those who were killed on 9/11. But U.S. policy can be analyzed by asking this question: If a member of my immediate family were one of the 3,000 killed on 9/11, which of the following would I choose:

(1) A tax will be imposed on all Americans who were not victims of 9/11, and all the revenue generated by that tax (approximately $500 billion) will be divided up and distributed to relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks ($50 million per person for each of 3 people related to each victim).

(2) Given that fifteen of the 9/11 attackers were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon, the $500 billion in tax revenue will not be given to families of victims, but will be used to kill 68,000 civilians in Iraq.

(3) No tax on Americans will be imposed, but the U.S. will freeze and nationalize $500 billion in Arab, Lebanese and Egyptian assets in the U.S. in proportion to national representation among the hijackers, and the money will be (a) divided up among 9/11 victims, or (b) used to destroy hospitals, roads, and power plants in Iraq.

(4) A tax will be imposed on all Americans, and an equal value of American labor will be diverted away from economic productivity into long lines at senseless security checks at airports in which Arab, Lebanese and Egyptian passengers will not be "profiled." The 4th Amendment will also be suspended, and vast amounts of civil liberties will be curtailed because "the attackers hate us for our liberties."

If I suffered an attack in which the attackers allegedly died, why would I demand that more suffering be inflicted on the living?

Sheldon Richman criticizes Randy Barnett's "libertarian" defense of the Iraq war. Barnett says:
[L]ibertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack.
Am I the only one who thinks "self-defense after an attack" is a self-contradiction? Isn't this just vengeance? Richman doesn't ask that question, but makes this equally good rejoinder to Barnett:

But they sure as heck tell us what constitutes inappropriate "self-defense" after an attack. Such as: don't commit mass murder, don't destroy a people's infrastructure so they will die of starvation and disease, and don't violate the rights of the people allegedly being defended.

The principles also provide guidance in how to avoid attacks and the need for self-defense in the first place. Such as: Don't prop up and arm dictators, don't overthrow elected regimes, don't aid those who oppress others, don't go out of your way to acquire enemies, etc. etc. etc.

There are about 200 million Americans who call themselves Christians, and yet America -- supposedly a "democracy" in which the will of the majority governs -- is an unChristlike imperialist nation dominated by vengeance, killing tens of thousands of innocent people around the world at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, and violating the most obvious principles of sensible Christian foreign policy. How can this be?


Anonymous said...

So, what is your stance on actual self-defense? Someone attacks you or your family during a home invasion. Not attacking you for your beliefs, just wants to take your life because you are there during the situation. Is it reasonable, in your opinion, to be armed to protect yourself and your family in such a case?

Kevin Craig said...

Thanks for the question. I've got a page on that here:


I believe we should try to prevent violence, but "Thou shalt not kill" is till the operative rule. Usually the phrase "self-defense" is referring to lethal force. I think Jesus said it is better to be killed than to kill.

The rationale for lethal self-defense is usually a stepping-stone to justify "national defense."

The Biblical Case Against "National Defense"