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Assignment Questions

Unilateralism and preemptive defense

Do you believe that the new Bush doctrine of unilateralism and preemptive defense is the best approach to fighting terrorism? Is it ethical? Is a better world possible? Is awareness of the cosmic perspective at all relevant in your opinion to our current situation, or is it just something nice to know?
This will be an informal paper. This paper will give you an opportunity to clarify your thoughts on the major issue of our time and to apply some of the major concepts we have discussed in this course.

Today we often here that 9/11 changed everything. In particular there is great controversy over President Bush’s new policy of preemptive defense. The President has announced to the world that “you are either with us or against us,” and that we have the right to attack any nation that we believe might be a threat to our security. Also, since he has been President, Bush has canceled international agreements on biological warfare, global warming, limiting the construction of anti-ballistic missile defense, and the establishment of an International Criminal Court. He has also announced that the United States will embark on a program of building a new type of nuclear weapon, smaller and more accurate, to be used to blow up possible terrorist enclaves deep under ground or in caves.

Supporters of the President claim that the real world is a jungle, that our way of life must be defended against people who are essentially barbarians, and the rule of law is a nice idea in a domestic society that believes in democracy, but not in a world where there really are no rules but power. According to the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, “the new unilateralism seeks to strengthen American power and unashamedly deploy it on behalf of self-defined global ends.”

See “The New Unilateralism” and “Holiday from History,” by Charles Krauthammer

According to the Bush supporter, conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson, in the real world the international education and understanding other cultures as a means to peace are wastes of time. In the real world what is important is to understand history, particularly military history. There one will find the truth, which is that there are good guys in the world — the West — and bad guys in the world — the East, and we have been at war, whether we know it or not for many centuries with the bad guys. Bin Laden is just another incident in the same pattern.

According to Hanson, the East has a tendency to create terrorism because the leaders of the East envy the West’s cultural success and do not have the cultural foundations to compete with us at the military level. The East’s so-called grievances are mostly fabrications because most of the so-called imperialistic acts of the West actually did a lot of good for the poor unfortunate backward barbarians. The East can’t compete with us militarily and must use terrorism, not because of the West’s imperialistic acts, colonialism, racism, and ensuing massive poverty (as we have been taught at left-wing colleges for the past several decades), but because of intrinsic flaws in their way of life. They just produce poor armies compared to that of the West. (This claim is similar to what we hear in President Bush’s speeches — that people hate us and attack us only because they “envy” us and not because of any real grievances.)

So what happens again and again in history, according to Hanson, is some mad man in the East thinks that they can get away with a terrorist attack against the West. But the West wakes up from its peaceful, moral slumber and leaves “corpses all over the globe” to teach once again the lesson of whose culture is morally superior.

According to Hanson, 9/11 and the necessity of war, “shatters our modernist assumption that we can change the nature of man and eliminate the Neanderthal need to resort to arms.” The world and human beings will never be any different than they are now. The only issue is whether we have strong leaders who recognize history. And according to Hanson recognizing that “real morality does not permit hesitating out of fear of injuring the innocent or suffering casualties but rather can require enduring that and more to ensure that thousands now and millions later will not grow up to be murdered under terror and fascism, whose fruits we know so well from the sordid history of the past century.”

See “The Longest War,” by Victor Davis Hanson

Opponents of the President believe that a policy that ignores our common humanity and the root causes of violence and terrorism will simply breed more terrorism. A policy that ignores the need for coalitions with other countries and the real grievances that breed the conditions for terrorism, and primarily resorts to military power to solve all international problems will produce a more dangerous world in the long run and actually increase the likelihood of more terrorism aimed at the United States. If the United States believes it can attack Iraq preemptively, what would stop India from attacking Pakistan, Russia from attacking Georgia, and China from invading Taiwan? Plus, will terrorism against terrorism end terrorism? Opponents of the President point to the kick-butt strategy of Israel against the Palestinians.

For instance, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1983 to end the sanctuaries for terrorists who where shelling Israeli illegal settlements. This kick-butt approach resulted in 17,000 collateral damage deaths (innocent civilians in refuge camps, mostly women and children). Is Israel safer today? It took some time, but the children who survived after watching their parents, grandparents, and brothers and sisters slaughtered with US supplied arms, are now seeking revenge any way they can. The historian Hanson argues that the Arab street will respect our power, that if we win they will be on our side. Opponents of the President’s Wild West foreign policy ask, “Is that human nature?” If you watched 90% of your family destroyed would you grow up to respect the killers? Or would you want revenge? Would your hatred be a result of “envy” of their economic system? Do we want to live as the people do in Israel some day?

A survey by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press of 21 nations recently revealed a growing considerable animosity toward the U.S. “The war (on Iraq) had widened the rift between Americans and Western Europeans, further inflamed the Muslim world, softened support for the war on terrorism, and significantly weakened global public support for the pillars of the post-World War II era ? the U.N. and the North Atlantic alliance,” said Pew’s director, Andrew Kohut.

For an example of criticism of the Presidents new preemptive military policy, see speeches ( 1 and 2 ) given by Senator Robert Byrd and a U. S. Diplomat’s Letter of Resignation. According to John Brady Kiesling (the diplomat mentioned in the previous sentence),

“…the more aggressively we use our power to intimidate our foes, the more foes we create and the more we validate terrorism as the only effective weapon of the powerless against the powerful.” See his Boston Globe article.

Be sure to discuss the difference between nihilism and meliorism and attempt to apply them in answering the above questions.

From the standpoint of what we have discussed in Chapter 10, there is a very real issue of species survival. Nietzsche raises this issue. Humans are smart and will continue to use science to get even smarter. This means our weapons will get better and better. We will continue to learn how to kill more people faster and faster. And our reasoning ability will always be at our service to devise a justification for killing more and more people who are “evil doers.” According to Nietzsche, the good guys always kill more people. Put two and two together and look to the future. What does a Nietzsche see? Extinction.

Carl Sagan would probably be seen as a pie-in-the-shy ivory tower dreamer by supporters of the President, as he was seen to be irrelevant in the 1980s during the nuclear buildup and cold war with the former Soviet Union. But Sagan believed we have to trick our violent nature into seeing a bigger picture, a bigger threat. For Sagan the most relevant perspective of all is the truth of the human condition on this fragile grain of sand, what we have called the cosmic perspective. Recall the philosophical spin-off argument from Chapter 1. Do you think it has any relevance in thinking about how we respond to terrorism? Is there a smarter way of fighting terrorism than to adopt the same morality of the terrorists? In Krauthammer’s “Holiday from History” article he seems to imply that Sagan would approve of Bush’s military approach to our current predicament. Do you think Sagan would approve? (Be sure to read and think about the passage in Chapter 10, The philosophy of the bomb, and note that it appears to advocate the same “morality” as that of Hanson and Krauthammer above.)

Also consider the meliorism of Dyson’s weapon philosophy. Does he offer the most realistic solution?

Hanson and Krauthammer are considered very conservative commentators and they are big supporters of President Bush. For a more middle of the road, politically speaking, comment see, “The Accidental Imperialist,” by Jackson Diehl.

For recent criticism of the Bush tactics in fighting terrorism, see “Our War’s Mistaken Premise,” by Benjamin R. Barber.
Then the body of your paper should be approximately four pages, double-spaced with appropriate margins (not less than one inch or more than one and half inches). Generally the default setting for the margins of today’s word processors is fine. The font and point should be easy to read. Times New Roman at 12 point is good. Sometimes students who don’t write enough will think that I will not notice if they have 14 point or very large margins. Sometimes students will make the type point very small if they write too much. I will notice.

Don’t worry about fancy title pages. There should not be any unless you want to make me suspicious about what you are trying to hide. So, just the Essay Focus, your name, and the body of your paper — that is it. We are interested in ideas, writing, and ethical deliberation, not in fancy publishing.

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