(written on December 8, 2010)
Note: The following words will be used in the essay with the given definitions.
Terrorism - "Terrorism is the unlawful use--or threatened use--of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies and governments, often for ideological or political reasons" ("Terrorism," Britain and the Americas). Terrorist actions include hijackings, bombings, suicide bombings, random killings, armed attacks, kidnappings, and vandalism. It often is directed towards random people ("Terrorism," World of Sociology).
Pre-emptive war - "To preempt means to strike first (or attempt to do so) in the face of an attack that is either already underway or is very credibly imminent. The decision for war has been taken by the enemy" (Gray v).
Wrong - "not appropriate or suitable; unjustifiable" ("Wrong").
Major Writing Assignment
The question of whether or not war strategies are right or wrong in a given situation has been asked since any form of fighting between two individuals or groups began. Debates over controversial topics regarding morality, intentional harm, weapons, the role of government, and the social good have all contributed to answering this question. Over the last couple hundred years, the question seems to have been asked more often, particularly within the context of overcoming terrorism. Of the many types of warfare, preemptive war is one such strategy that has been hotly debated. In discussion, leaders address the security of the people involved based on the weapons, targets, and timeline of the terrorists. They also attempt to anticipate future actions of the terrorists and discuss multiple strategies that can be used when faced with terrorism. Given the nature of terrorism, the tactic of preemptive war is not wrong when used to protect, prevent, or as a last resort.
First, preemptive war is not wrong when it is used to protect citizens, particularly those who are innocent. One of the functions of a government is to provide security for its citizens. Society also has a responsibility to ensure that its citizens are protected. Since terrorists target people who are usually part of a government or society, it follows that terrorism is one instance where citizens should be protected. This is particularly true in the case of pre-emptive war. If an attack is already occurring or impending, it is in the best interest of the government to take pre-emptive action because citizens will suffer either way. Then, it is appropriate (that is, not wrong), for the government to choose the path that will give the citizens the most protection. An attack on the enemy would result in less harm being inflicted upon the citizens because the enemy would not have a clear pathway to success. Not only citizens, but the innocent, in particular, should receive protection because they do not deserve the force or the violence imposed on them by the terrorists. According to the definition of terrorism, it is often "random people" who are affected by terrorist action. Since the majority of people in a society are usually innocent, the principles of statistics show that a random selection of people would contain mostly innocent individuals. Therefore, pre-emptive action, if successful, would limit the number of innocent people harmed by terrorism. The effect of terrorist attacks on the innocent is depicted in a photograph found on the September 11 Digital Archive website (Nelson). This picture depicts a memorial wall found at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan, which contains photographs and notes that reflect only a small sample of the thousands of people who died. Most of the people killed were businessmen and women working at the World Trade Center, New York citizens and tourists walking along the street, or passengers of the airplane traveling for business or pleasure. None, with the exception of the terrorists, probably had the intention of dying on September 11 because an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center. As a result, one can conclude that the people who suffered and are depicted in the photograph are all innocent. Pre-emptive war can lead to protection for the innocent because it blocks a terrorist's clear pathway to a successful attack. The protection of citizens as a justification for pre-emptive war goes hand in hand with the prevention of future terrorist action.
The goal of preventing further terrorism is to protect citizens, but prevention is worth exploring separately as being appropriate in a time of terrorism because it looks at the larger scope of the situation. Prevention is justifiable because it has the potential to lessen the duration of the war. Since preemption occurs only if the opponent's attack has already taken place or is forthcoming, it is inevitable that a battle will occur. As a result, a group should have the mentality that if conflict is unavoidable, they might as well participate to the best of their ability and strive to end the fight once and for all. If the pre-emptive action does overpower the enemy's strength and cause the enemy to surrender, then the pre-emptive action is justified by preventing further conflict that could be even more harmful to citizens. In addition, prevention is justifiable because it keeps more people from getting hurt. Weapons of mass destruction, also known as nuclear weapons, are available to terrorist groups. These weapons operate through nuclear fission or nuclear fusion, which "produce large explosions and hazardous radioactive byproducts [...with up to] thousands of kilotons of explosive force" ("Nuclear weapons"). With so much energy, nuclear weapons can easily wipe out entire populations. If terrorists were to use nuclear weapons, pre-emptive war would be an appropriate response because it could help prevent destruction that could affect such a vast number of people. While terrorism causes physical pain, it can also cause psychological pain because its aim is to effect political or ideological change. Pain, whether physical or psychological, is never pleasant. Physical pain, though sometimes chronic, is often temporary due to the body's ability to heal itself. Psychological pain, on the other hand, can be much more complex and require more attention. It also affects people in a deeper way because it adds mental and emotional components. Therefore, pre-emptive war is justifiable because it not only prevents physical pain, but also psychological pain. While protection and prevention are just reasons for pre-emptive action, one may ask if there are other alternatives to reach the same goal.
Leaders can and should evaluate other strategies before turning to pre-emptive war in overcoming terrorism; however, when all other tactics prove ineffective, it is appropriate to take pre-emptive action. Religious groups, especially Christian groups, have often used the Bible and Jesus' command to love other people as a reason for pacifism. They believe that Christ's example of sacrificial love and silence at the painful cross should be followed by refraining from war, including pre-emptive war. At the same time, while the Bible talks about loving others, it also points to sin and the fact that "Jews and Gentiles [(all people)] alike are all under the power of sin [...] There is no one righteous, not even one" (New International Version, Romans 3:9-10). As much as Christians or other religious groups may hope for a world filled with perfect love, it will never happen because of sin. Violence is a consequence of sin and will continue to exist as long as this world continues to be filled with sinful humans. As leaders are faced with an impending threat or a current attack, it is appropriate for them to take pre-emptive action because imitating Christ's love, unfortunately, will not stop the inevitable. Another commonly suggested war tactic is diplomacy. However, this tactic is ineffective when people are set in their ways and unwilling to make compromises. Psychologists call this phenomenon "belief persistence" where people are "very resistive to change, even in the face of fairly compelling evidence that [a belief or opinion] is wrong" (Nickerson 187). A group of scientists conducted an experiment whose results supported this concept. Participants were told to judge between real and fake suicidal notes and received preplanned comments on their progress during the task. After completing the task, the participants were informed that the comments were random and were then asked to fill out a self-assessment of their performance. Those who were given positive comments, though arbitrarily, gave higher ratings, while those given negative comments, also arbitrarily, gave lower ratings. The researchers explained how the individuals' initial beliefs of their behavior persisted even though they were told the beliefs were incorrect. The idea of belief persistence also applies to terrorism. Since terrorism is often based on resolute political or ideological beliefs, diplomacy may be ineffective if the terrorists are unwilling to compromise because of their belief persistence. In this circumstance, it follows that physical violence, such as pre-emptive action, is more effective than verbal discussion. As can be seen from discussion of two other war strategies, it is likely that pre-emptive war will be necessary in response to terrorism. Since terrorism involves ideological (often religious) as well as political motivation, there is more at stake. United States Navy Commander Jonathan P. Wilcox thinks that "the changing nature of the enemy, the inefficacy of traditional deterrence, and the terrible consequences that accompany considerations of failure require new strategies specifically designed to deal with a new and nontraditional threat" (Wilcox 11). Pre-emptive war, given its definition and that it is a means of protection and prevention, can and should be used when all other alternatives have been exhausted.
Pre-emptive war is not wrong when used during an age of terrorism for the purposes of protection of citizens, prevention of further harm, and when all possible strategies have been exhausted. A government's responsibility for its citizens is especially important during an imminent threat and pre-emptive war is often the best way to protect them. The use of pre-emptive war also prevents additional destruction, including physical, mental, and emotional. In addition, it is a final solution when other strategies such as Christ-like love and diplomacy are ineffective. There is no doubt that the controversy about pre-emptive war will continue to exist. However, it is important for leaders who are against the strategy to keep an open mind and evaluate all variables because there may be a time, such as in the age of terrorism, when pre-emptive war is appropriate.
Gray, Colin S. "The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines: A Reconsideration." Strategic Studies Institute. United States Government, July 2007. Web. 5 Dec. 2010. <http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/>.
Nelson, Patricia. "1023." Photograph. September 11 Digital Archive. 2001. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.
Nickerson, Raymond S. "Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises." Review of General Psychology 2.2 (June 1998): 175-220. PsycARTICLES. Web. 6 Dec. 2010.
"Nuclear weapons." The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. Credo Reference. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.
"Terrorism." Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005. Credo Reference. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.
"Terrorism." World of Sociology, Gale. Farmington: Gale, 2001. Credo Reference. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
Wilcox, Jonathan P. "Legitimacy in the conduct of Military Operations." Short of General War: Perspectives on the Use of Military Power in the 21st Century. Ed. Harry R. Yarger. Strategic Studies Institute. United States Government, April 2010. Web. 5 Dec. 2010. <http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/>.
"Wrong." Chambers 21st Century Dictionary. London: Chambers Harrap, 2001.Credo Reference. Web. 2 Dec. 2010. <http://911digitalarchive.org/index.php>.
 This uses inductive reasoning, part of the reason way of knowing. It starts with the premise that government should protect its citizens and uses the definitions of preemptive and terrorism to draw the conclusion that preemptive war is not wrong.
 This uses reasoning because math (including statistics) is reason-based.
 This uses the aesthetic way of knowing.
 This uses the reason way of knowing.
 This uses the science way of knowing since nuclear energy and radiation are scientific concepts that have been observed and tested.
 This uses the emotion way of knowing because it relates to how people feel.
 This uses the revelation way of knowing.
 This uses the science way of knowing because psychology, as a social science, uses the scientific method. In the example given, the scientific method was used through the hypothesis was given, the experiment conducted, and the conclusions drawn.