But Mommy, he hit me back first….

I’ve always loved that quintessential little kid excuse:  “But, Mommy, he hit me back first….”  Even kids understand, although they don’t always appreciate, the notion of a preemptive strike.  Lately, there’s more and more talk about Israel engaging in a preemptive strike against Iran (cheered by friends, feared by foes).  George Bush painted our attack on Iraq as a preemptive strike.  In 1967, Israel engaged in a preemptive strike against Egypt.

All of which got me thinking about what exactly constitutes a preemptive strike.  Because really, when you think about it, even if you call it a “preemptive strike,” it is actually the first act of cross-border aggression.  When Israel destroyed the Egyptian air force in 1967, that air force hadn’t yet crossed into Israeli airspace.  Israel acted first.  I happen think Israel acted correctly because, had she waited for Egypt to cross into her airspace, it would have been too late to mount any defense.  While Egypt lost merely airplanes and military personnel, Israel would have lost her towns and her citizens.

Likewise, while we were worried about Iraq’s WMDs, we actually didn’t know whether Saddam actually planned an immediate attack.  The problem from our point of view was that we couldn’t wait for that attack to reach fruition.  We were engaged in conventional warfare, but a WMD attack would have constituted destruction on a scale almost impossible to contemplate.

Israel again faces the same dilemma.  If we play purist and ignore the fact that Iran is funding almost daily attacks on Israeli soil via Hamas (which is Iran’s proxy), Iran itself has actually not crossed Israel’s borders.  Nevertheless, most thinking people believe that Israel cannot wait but must engage in a preemptive strike.  Otherwise, she risks apocalyptic destruction — and Israel believes, with good reason, that Obama’s honeyed words to the Muslims, generally, and Iranians, specifically, won’t stop that.

So, I’m thinking that a preemptive strike is a responsive, not an aggressive act, when your enemy has given overwhelming strong indications that it intends to engage in an apocalyptic strike against you.  That is, without even crossing your border, its actions constitution an act of war, justifying your response.  Moreover, preemptive strikes are directed solely at military targets, with every effort made to minimize collateral (i.e., civilian) damage.

Under this line of thinking, Japan, even though it had a military objective at Pearl Harbor, was engaging in an act of pure aggression, rather than a preemptive strike.  This is so because it did not satisfy the predicate requirement of facing an enemy that was planning its imminent, and complete, demise.

Because this will surely be an issue in the upcoming weeks and months, I’d love to know what you think on this subject.

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Comments

  1. suek says

    “…quintessential little kid excuse”

    Is it really? I only had one who came home with that one – and here I thought it was totally original! Actually, it was…he was only 3 at the time…so no outside input. I don’t think the kids even watched TV in those days!

    One thing about the military and living in housing – most people were about the same age, and most had kids. Made it easy for the kids to go out and play – there was always _someone_ their age!

    Never did figure out just exactly “he hit me back first” meant though…which one _really_ threw the first punch!

  2. says

    During the Cold War era, the strategy of preemptive attack was much discussed–it was made attractive by then then-absolute impossiblity of destroying enemy missiles once they had actually been launched.

    Had technology not advanced to encompass solid-fuel, silo-based, and submarine-launched missile, ensuring the a virtually certain retaliatory strike, someone surely would have given in to the temptation of a first strike, and the apocalypse would have already occurred.

  3. highlander says

    If a madman in the room next to yours is loading his gun and shouting that he intends to kill you — and it’s impossible for you to just walk away — does it make sense to wait for him to fire the first shot?

  4. says

    Iran repeatedly and continually communicates its intent to destroy the Israeli state, and as many of her people as possible.

    Iran is currently funding multiple ongoing attempts through proxies to destroy the Israeli state, and as many of her people as possible.

    Iran is clearly pursuing the nuclear means to accomplish what it attempts through other means, and continues to threaten at every opportunity.

    And there is some question about whether Israel would be justified in a pre-emptive strike…..why?

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