Friday, July 25, 2008

Responding to Terrorism: what is appropriate?

Daniel Barnes posted an entry on Leonard Peikoff's appearance on the Bill O'Reilly show shortly after 9/11. The post is titled The Madness of King Leonard. An interesting discussion ensued. I weighed in with the following.

I think Peikoff's main point is sound: that we have the right to defend ourselves. However, I disagree with his conclusion that we are therefore justified in bombing an entire country into oblivion, including the many people who have no voice in what their government does or condones. Peikoff and other Objectivists including Rand herself seem to believe that people who are born in countries like Iran deserve what they get because they don’t emigrate to another, freer country. While I agree with the need for decisive, forceful action I don’t think we can objectively defend blanket destruction. While I acknowledge that we used the atomic bomb in Japan to break the will of the Japanese government I doubt if the same approach would work in Iraq, primarily because we’ll dealing with pockets of resistance, not a central government that is fighting us.

I would hope our police never adopt Peikoff’s policy. If they did I’d never want to be a hostage in a bank robbery!

Fortunately our military tried to minimize civilian casualties while targeting appropriate key facilities. Our mistake was in not committing enough troops to flesh out and crush the insurgents. I also read somewhere that the local leaders who could help us initially laid low because they were afraid of being left high and dry by the U.S., thus exposing themselves to terrorists in their midst. Within the last year these leaders started to help our troops ferret out the opposition.

Peikoff’s position reveals a simplistic either-or approach that typifies some Objectivist “thinking”. They take a fundamentally sound premise then apply it without acknowledging context or conditions that would modify one’s conclusion or actions.

Peikoff indeed was borderline apoplectic which certainly doesn’t improve his chances of getting his message heard. Once again this is a symptom of someone who feels that the certainty of their position can speak for itself and needs no “spin,” concern with presentation or with consequences.