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I have no desire to shoot anyone, much less shoot someone and kill them. Can you imagine the paperwork? But seriously, I’m a live-and-let-live kinda guy. I don’t have the right nor feel the need to shoot someone unless they pose an imminent, credible threat of death or grievous bodily harm. This legal/moral justification for the use of deadly force gives me comfort, but it isn’t as straightforward as it seems . . .

If a knife-wielding bad guy is standing within striking distance clearly intent on aerating my internal organs, the internal organs of my family or friends or other innocent life, chocks away! Sure, a verbal warning might preceed and hopefully forestall a ballistic solution. But shooting and perhaps killing the perp is a no-sleep-lost, no-brainer.

What distance constitutes a credible threat? If the bad guy is across the street, outside of Tueller drill distance, both law and common sense says hang fire. But what if he’s in, say, Iraq? I reckon the same basic principle applies but you have to take a very close look at the words “imminent” and “credible.”

The Bush administration sold the first Iraq war to the American people on the basis of Saddam Hussein’s [alleged] possession of weapons of mass destruction, and the possibility that he’d use them on our allies or us. Given the Iraqi army’s Halabja chemical attack, the largest deadly gas attack in human history, it was a credible threat. But perhaps not credible enough to justify a full-force military response.

As for the imminence of Saddam Hussein’s threat, that was kind of a moveable feast, relating more to our ability to attack Hussein’s armed forces than the Iraqi leader’s ability to launch mass murder on American soil. In contrast, the Afghan war was launched with the clear understanding that Al Qaeda posed an imminent, credible threat to innocent life within our borders.

I’m not trying to re-try the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. I’m saying that the American military has a code they can live by. The same code that we, armed Americans, must live by.

Sure, politics screws everything up. The Bush Doctrine includes pre-emptive military action; it stretches the definition of “imminence” and “credibility” to their limits. Is every Muslim “extremist” — both here and abroad — an imminent or credible threat to our safety and security? As we wrestle with these questions, our military stands ready to do the right thing.

The men and women at the sharp end — our Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen — follow the principle that underpins the whole imminence/credibility equation: protect innocent life. While many bemoan our military’s rules of engagement — claiming they inhibit our chances of success on the battlefield — I view them as one of America’s crowning achievements. Never in the course of human history has so much power been used so judiciously.

The men and women wielding guns at the behest of our Commander-in-Chief are an inspiration. They’re not perfect, but their professionalism is a perfect example to us all. Especially to those of us who choose to exercise our natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. A right whose protection gave birth to our country. And our armed forces. Happy Memorial Day.

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  1. I think history will prove the decision to invade Iraq less to do with WMD than with parking 3 divisions on Saudi Arabia’s northern border to send a message to the Saudi’s.

    That’s not a comment on the morality (or lack of same) of the GWOT. I think it’s immoral because I believe if you go to war you take on a moral imperative to fight that war to win, and make every attempt to reach a decisive conclusion. Nothing I saw in my time over there led me to believe we were serious about winning.

    • To that add, the first gulf war also provided the Chinese and Soviets a front row seat to ability to plan, coordinate and execute warfare. In one stroke, past air war doctrine was nulled, our armor capability demonstrated to the world and ended the Cold War.

    • Politicians have no skin in the game. If they had to send their sons and daughters off to fight, you’d bet they’d make sure it was for good reason first, and it would be prosecuted decisively, so as to not waste the lives spent.

      • They have been buying our T-Notes on the sly since 1974. We kinda owe them a few hundred billion.

        (As disgusting as that may be.)

        • Heh. The nice thing about T-bills is that they can be “paid” by printing the requisite amount of money – a convenient perk of having your national currency as global reserve. Obviously, there are some undesirable side effects; but if anyone were to be foolish enough to actually try to claim all of theirs at once, that is exactly what is going to happen. And, since everyone who has them (which is pretty much every single country in the world) knows it, and knows that theirs would also be instantly devalued in such circumstances, everyone’s watching everyone else to make sure this never happens.

          It’s like postmodernist abstract paintings – pragmatically, they aren’t worth the canvas they’re painted on; but so long as everyone pretends that’s not the case, and keep trading them for insane amounts of money, they have actual market value. And because all serious collectors have them, everyone’s in on the sham, and it’s in no-one’s interest to disturb it.

  2. Like a guy robbing a bank pretending to have gun, Sadam wanted everyone to think he WMD.

    Like the pretend bank-robber, Sadam expected to bully his way through.

    Like the pretend babk-robber, Sadam got his ass handed to him.

    After the fact, it easy to say “but he didn’t really have a gun”. Little too late.

    • Hussein had some WMDs left over from before Desert Storm, but he had not re-started his WMD programs. He chose not to admit as much so that he could maintain a significant deterrent to Iran.

      He chose poorly.

      • He chose very poorly. He also lied to everyone within his government about WMD’s. Unless Saddam himself was a spy against his own government it would have been virtually impossible to figure out what was going on in Iraq in the context of WMD. The guy was paranoid about Iran finding out he didn’t have any more WMD’s and coming after him in Iran-Iraq War 2.0.

        After the fall of Baghdad the commanders of the units defending the airport were debriefed and every one of them thought the unit next to them had the gas to turn back our advance or that the other unit had special codes so they could call in gas artillery.

        • The only problem is that US intelligence did know that Saddam was not a credible WMD threat. But that was suppressed, so that justification for the war wouldn’t fall apart. The people who did orchestrate the war, were fully aware that they were lying.

        • @int19h The people gathering the intelligence were intentionally vague about what Saddam had. Think telling someone “we have reasonable evidence to prove…” vs “There is a 30% chance they have…”. They were intentionally vague, and thought that being vague was better than being up front about things. 13 years later, he we are.

  3. 14 un resolutions and several months notice made the Iraq war one that hussein could have avoided. It was not a snap decision. If GWB did nothing they would have chastised him for that too. The real problems are the people running these countries, they are a variable no one can confrol. Plenty of evidence suggests the wmd was spirited out of Iraq before we got there. Again, there was no easy answer and either way political enemies were looking good for an opening after the 2000 election.

    I’m glad it was done in only wish we had a sofa in place to hold it like Europe and Asia.

  4. “Preemptive Military Action” is what brought us Pear Harbor.

    I guess the Japs were justified.

    Many swords have two edges and coins have two sides.

    • Yeah, what we did to the Japanese in 1852-54 led to Pearl Harbor. And no, I’m not joking. Gunboat diplomacy, Matthew C. Perry and google it. When you stick your nose in other people’s bidness don’t be surprised when they retaliate at a later date.

      • Nah, they didn’t wait 90 years to retaliate. In fact, Japan was an ally of the Western “Entente” powers in WW1. What really bugged the Japanese is that it didn’t receive much of a political payoff for being on the winning side in WW1. Japan received a couple of German colonies, but right after the war it slipped into a serious recession and became a debtor nation.

        As with Germany, economic instability triggered the rise of an aggressive military in Japan.

      • Whispers of the horrific conduct of the IJA in occupied territories reached Washington through diplomats and Red Cross aides im the 30’s. FDR smartly pushed for a trade embargo to slow their march down, his knowledge of the coming attack and refusal to do anything about it is another matter. Japan loses its shit and bombs Pearl Harbor, a totally unjustified response, seeing as they brought the embargo upon themselves by brutalizing the whole of asia for all the world to see.

        Tojo and friends cited European colonialism as justification, but that doesn’t exactly work because their conduct was worse. We are talking about the same Japan that operated Unit 731 and offered none of the beneficial services Euro/U.S colonies historically did for their conquered (medical care, education, improved sanitary conditions, etc).

        Those under the West were seen as largely peaceful people living among a few rogue elements a la Sandino in Nicaragua that had to be erradicated. Although rape and extra-judicial murder of non-combatants happened, they were at least discouraged and even punished. The Japanese viewed themselves as The Emperor’s Chosen Vs a world of sub-humans, and under those divine precepts no act was too brutal, hence their fanatically violent conduct towards civilians in Korea and China alone. It wasn’t all that different from the Dar al Harb and Dar al Islam of today’s radical Muslims.

        Methinks you learned your history from yet another bastion of American progressive revisionism, Dave. Dammit Horkheimer, your school of “It’s all the West’s fault” strikes yet again.

      • As insane as it sounds in hindsight, the intent behind Pearl Harbor was to keep the Americans out of the war. The Japanese needed the oil resources in the Pacific and they wanted the time and space to secure them without American interference. They expected the Pearl Harbor attack to cripple the American Navy for years.

        What none of the Axis powers understood in the least was the staggering productive capacity of the American economy. Not only did the US recover, but it successfully engaged in two theaters, while outproducing the rest of the war powers on both sides combined.

        • With the single exception that the Soviet Union was exceptionally good at producing cannon fodder.

        • With the single exception that the Soviet Union was exceptionally good at producing cannon fodder.
          As German Soldiers stated;” Without the massive aid from America, the great Soviet Offensives in the latter parts of the war would simply not have been possible.”

        • Which is bullshit, because USSR had its industry chugging along quite nicely by the latter half of the war.

          It was surviving the German onslaught in 1941-42 that was the most difficult part for USSR, and where lend lease helped a great deal, when a lot of industrial capacity was left on the captured territories and had to be rebuilt from scratch.

        • Stalin was the guy who practically invented doublespeak. He could say anything, and it could mean nothing.

          Note, however, that even taken at face value, this does not contradict anything that I had said. USSR was in a really tough spot in the first two years of the war, and all mainstream historiography around lend lease indicates that this is where it helped the most. If you’re arguing that lend lease saved USSR – which, to stress again, I consider a valid and reasonable position, although I do not necessarily agree with it fully – then it would have to do that in those first two years. And, indeed, that is exactly what is normally argued.

          Anyone who knows the history of WW2 on the Eastern Front knows that Kursk (mid-1943) was a turning point, and after that, it was Soviets pushing forward and Germans retreating. Soviets didn’t really need any help to wrap up the war from there on, though any such help (lend lease, second front etc) did bring the victory day that much closer.

  5. This is the thing many of the pundits don’t understand. They talk endlessly about how guns in private hands are of no value as a counterbalance to tyranny as we couldn’t stand against the weight of the US military machine. And they right except for the fact that many if not most soldiers and officers would not take action against their own countrymen.

    • Whenever someone tries that line of argument, I always ask, “then why are there no soldiers at our doors?”

  6. You are getting this the wrong way i think

    The reason why we have to follow the “capability, opportunity and intent” doctrine before using force, lethal or less lethal, is that we as individuals cannot defeat the system of a well-established developed country (aka the USA).

    Not so much for the US military

    As long as Rusky or Chink nukes are not coming our way, and there is no foreseeable significant strategic drawback, we can pretty much do whatever we want.

    You bet i wanna kill all the guys who once banged my wife

    You bet i wanna burn down my neighbour’s house cuz they mow their lawn earlier than i’d like

    I dont do it not because i dont want to, it’s because i cant afford the consequence.

    Sorry, never born to be the saint-type. I was taught to be an economist lmfao.

  7. “I view them as one of America’s crowning achievements. Never in the course of human history has so much power been used so judiciously.” Robert Fargo.

    Above all other achievements…among belligerents the cost in lives brings little profit in war.

    A student of history, two laps around the blue marble and a skirmish under my belt, allows me to reflect time and again how great this nation is and what makes us different. We have the capacity, by use of force, achieved by no other nation, the ability to dominate any place we choose. However the very thought of invading another country gives us pause. Perhaps cultural of democracy holding truths to be self evident, or the struggle for life and liberty within borders, or code written in our DNA to be firm but fair. A swath of land between two oceans where both native and indentured servant died by the thousands, where enough work allowed one to survive and the excess sold. Colonist lived better than their European counterparts and perhaps that is why a better life across all stations allowed us to think differently.

  8. RF…

    Read this twice, and spent some time pondering. At first, decided to just let it go. Then….

    The thought pattern that “I don’t want to….” can be fatal. The natural instinct is to not want to take the life of another. That instinct can only be overcome by seriously training the mind to respond, not think, when one is threatened with deadly threat. It is why the military spends so much time training and molding the combat mindset; you default to your training first, then your base instincts. Entertaining the “I don’t want to…” thought can lead to hesitation as the “normal” person tries to conjure a non-lethal alternative (not to mention overcoming the idea that someone would want to harm such a fine fellow as me).

    As to “judicious use of power”, that reads well, sounds fine, and puffs up chests in swells of pride at being so superior. Fact: armies are designed to break things and kill people; judicial use of power is for police. Since 1960, the nation has been warped to accept “sending messages” through the military as the proper use of that military. “Police actions”, if you will. A war is not a random traffic stop. Nor is it community service. To cop a phrase, “War is all hell”. A people who believe war is a means to set limits, convince an enemy to make better life choices are a danger to themselves. War is diplomacy by other means. When diplomacy (sending messages) fails, a nation either yields, or forces a desired outcome through violent and devastating action; preferably action that leaves the enemy incapable of ever posing a threat again.

  9. Great article.

    Everyone is entitled to their outlook on the Iraq wars, Afghanistan and every other extension of military power the USA has engaged in.

    I spent 2 1/2 years in Iraq and have made multiple trips into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Beirut, the West bank, and several other garden spots.

    In my opinion . . . better to fight them there than here.

    • When Saddam was in power, we usually were not fighting anyone in Iraq. We did fight a brief skirmish in Kuwait, but that was not like the mincing machine Iraq was.
      Just because you are fighting the Muzrats in a foreign country, does not mean that they cannot still attack you in the USA.

      • “More” is such a relative term. Islam has waged both a cultural and physical Jihad against western civilization before 9/11. It’s only ebbed and flowed according to circumstances.

        • By any metric I can think of, it’s more. The number of people involved, the amount of territory they hold, the number of attacks globally and on our soil specifically, the number of victims etc. We’re putting out fire with gasoline.

  10. It seems I cannot respond to Harrison’s quote in another section, so…
    Harrison actually was a notable guy and did lead troops during the latter stages of the Civil War. The guy was not quite as cavalier as this statement seems as he did champion Civil War Veteran’s causes.
    Truthfully, I had ancestors who lived through the Civil War and some thought the affair a wonderful cause and others whom totally despised it.
    I still think Uncle Billy Sherman and Nathaniel Bedford Forrest probably had things pegged much more accurately.

  11. It seems Uncle Billy Sherman, Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, James Longstreet, George S. Patton, Dwight Eisenhower, and Curtis LeMay had a better handle on war than most people. George C. Marshall does not get much credit, but somebody had to organize the mess on the home front.

    • Read a bit more in depth on Marshall. The progtards have whitewashed his history but it’s not all that pretty.


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