Law and the Right to Self-Offense
September 24, 2002
By Jeremiah Bourque
In martial arts, there is a particular slur that is called
"self-offense." This slur is intended to disparage a martial
artist (or wannabe) by presenting him as someone who is learning
what is supposed to be an art for self-defense, but who actually
intends to use it not to defend himself, but to assault others
with a greater degree of technical skill and know-how.
"Self-offense" could also be applied to Hitler's approach
to "defending" the Third Reich. Poland was invaded because
it had "attacked" Germany. France was invaded because it had
then declared war on Germany. Russia was attacked because
it posed an imminent threat to Germany. In all cases, Germany
was simply acting in its own "best interests," working to
preserve the German state, to protect the German people from
attack, and to ensure peace and prosperity for all Germans
for years to come.
President Bush is now asking Congress to legitimize self-offense
by the United States to bring peace and security to the world,
no matter what that entails, no matter where battles must
be fought. He is asking for a license not to kill, but to
conquer. For how can there be peace without conquest? "Terrorist
states" such as Iraq can only be subdued or destroyed; they
cannot be simply defeated and allowed to continue to exist.
Such is the message from the all-knowing, all-seeing hawks
who guide the American nation towards its manifest destiny:
To place its foot upon the neck of all nations that pose a
threat to it, present or future.
Currently, the "moderate" option in dealing with Iraq is
to send in 50,000 troops with weapon inspectors, with free
access to all areas of the country, a blank cheque to search
any location, and a doctrine that states that even the slightest
interference (harming a single hair on the head of a weapon
inspector, or perhaps a car bomb, or a shooting, or perhaps
a rock falling from a building and killing a soldier) would
result in an instant "invasion," as if an invasion had not
already taken place. This doctrine of "coercive inspections"
has a single, powerful, driving assumption at its core:
There are no nations save the United States. Everything else
is just territory.
This doctrine holds that only the United States has the right
to consider itself a sovereign power. The United Nations,
a self-help club for sovereign nations, would be useless,
primarily because there are none except America. Everyone
else is to be judged by the threat they pose to America. If
there is a threat, the President is to have unlimited authority
to take whatever action he deems necessary (or profitable)
for the defense (or offense) of the United States of America.
With the United States able and willing to declare states
to be illegitimate entities at its pleasure, there is no legal,
moral, or philosophical barrier to violating borders, treaties,
or pledges, since these entities do not, in the strict view
of Americans, exist anymore. It is not a matter of unilateralism;
it is a matter of navel-gazing, believing that there is only
one nation that matters, and in that nation, there is only
one man who matters, the President. The power of life or death,
freedom or slavery, is to be vested in him, for he is the
only one who is wise enough and powerful enough to make the
In this system, the President is a substitute for God. Acting
in God's name, for God's purposes, he takes in his hands the
destiny of the world, shaping it according to his just beliefs
and standing in judgement over all nations, deciding if they
are to be allowed the fiction that they exist, or if their
existence will be wiped away in a flash of blinding light.
This man, in his wisdom, judges daily matters of global importance,
deciding not only the fate of nations, but of individuals,
judging whether they are friend or foe, ally or enemy.
I choose not to name this system, for no name will suffice;
we will call this system by what it chooses to be called,
for there will soon be no power to call it by any other. Thus,
I will call this system of government by the name it chooses
for itself: Democracy. On this day, in the 21st century, this
is what Democracy now is, and has become.
The right to self-defense, and the right to self-offense,
now rests in the hands of the single nation, in the hands
of the single leader of the nation.
May he show some shred of prudence.