Friday, May 1, 2009

Excessive Pride Goes Before a Fall

First published on BlogCritics on 1 May 2009.

I like my lawyer costume, because I am comfortable wearing it and because it permits me to pontificate on things from a different perspective than do many others on this site. I recently did so in an article focusing on the legal aspects of "torturing" terrorists to gain information needed to avoid future terrorist attacks.

The Law is a wonderful thing, often a creature of logical coherence and beauty. It allows reasonable people to live together with minimal friction. It also allows reasonable people to have realistic expectations as to the consequences of their actions. Those expectations involve a basic concept of fairness and, in Western societies at least, a reasonable understanding that obedience to The Law will keep one safe from excessive Governmental abuse. It is not reasonable to expect that a meter maid will shoot one for failing to put coins into a parking meter or that a policeman will cut off one's head for attempting to walk across a street in the middle of the block; or even riddle one with bullets for committing the sin of adultery in a field somewhere. One need not live in constant fear that the Government will behave inconsistently with The Law, even when one fails to do so oneself. The laws and the Constitution are designed to provide rights to all, good and bad, and more often than not, do so.

Despite these wonders, The Law is sometimes very frustrating and there are contexts in which it simply cannot function as one would wish. I shall now remove my Lawyer costume and try to talk about defending against those who are completely outside the law as we know it, who present a very real danger personally, to lawful society and to civilization in general.

Some have probably heard of Krav Maga,, a personal self defense system developed in Israel for her commandos and now gaining popularity worldwide for civilian self defense. As I understand Krav Maga, it teaches that in defending oneself in a violent context, such as a street attack by a mugger or a rapist, or in a home invasion by armed burglars, to take every possible advantage even if in a more civilized context to do so would be "unfair." Outside the civilized context, there are no rules of fair play. On defense, one strikes as quickly as possible where it hurts the most, going for the eyes or other highly vulnerable body parts. The idea is to put the attackers on the defensive and to disable them, as quickly as possible. The only rules are to disable attackers efficiently and quickly, and to keep from being hurt oneself; the Marquess of Queensberry probably would not approve, nor would Emily Post. Were I to put my lawyer costume back on for a moment, I would pontificate that only proportionate force should be used, and that no unnecessary harm should be caused to one's attackers. However, I took that costume off when I started this article, so will say nothing of the sort.

Permit me to relate some recent events here, in Panama, which have brought home -- literally -- and forcefully, to me the idea that there are contexts in which it is unwise if not suicidal to be either polite or "fair." In our quite remote, rural and otherwise tranquil area, we have not yet had any problem of the sort described below, and I of course hope that we never will. It would nevertheless be extremely foolish not to prepare for the worst, and we are doing so as best we can.

Within about ten kilometers of our small farm, several homes have been broken into at night -- between two and four in the morning is the preferred time for that sort of thing. Here is an e-mail my wife wrote about these events and which was picked up by a blog site in Panama City, some 450 KM to our east. The burglars apparently are armed and pretty savvy; they would likely be classified as sociopaths. They typically use some kind of air-borne drug blown in through an open window to disable the residents. Then, they -- generally several of them -- break in, rape any reasonably attractive woman or girl not menstruating at the time, and steal things. Thus far, they have killed no one. There have been three such incidents recently. Many people in our immediate area are having difficulty sleeping at night, and in some cases someone stands watch at night, just as one would do on a boat out in the open ocean. Out in the open ocean where we sailed, the principal concern involved only the normal hazards of the sea; violent criminals were never a problem.

There is virtually no police protection at all here for various reasons, including that the nearest police facility is more than half an hour away and does not have a car. Efforts have been made to get them a car or a motorcycle. Even with a vehicle, they probably wouldn't have sufficient gasoline to go far. Donations for gasoline have been solicited. Getting the police to respond at our place until well after everything interesting had ended would be impossible.

There have been community meetings with the Mayor of the District and a meeting has been scheduled with the Governor of the Province. Even though Gringos have not, thus far, been victims of such attacks, the local Representante visited us and the very few Gringos living here, to make sure that we were aware of the situation. All seem seriously concerned and quite sympathetic. Unfortunately, they lack the resources necessary to take effective steps to deal with the problem.

We have four large dogs and one small dog, who sleep in our house and can be counted on to bark loudly and ferociously should someone approach. We think and hope that they would be as energetic in attempting to protect us as we would be in attempting to protect them. They sleep in our bedroom, not only because we enjoy their company, but also because these burglars typically throw poisoned meat to distract and kill dogs roaming outside. We also have multiple security lights, a well locked gate, and are sufficiently distant from the road that our house cannot be seen. We are getting a shotgun, a process which takes several months if the laws are followed. In addition to our dogs, we now have an air pistol, two pepper spray canisters, and a spray bottle full of ammonia. I keep my walking cane and the air pistol on my bedside table. The spray canisters and ammonia bottle are on my wife's bedside table. We would not be the least hesitant to use any or all of these things were we attacked, and it would be silly to wait until it could be determined with certainty whether the burglars are, as others have generally been, armed. The purpose would be to disable the attackers, as quickly as possible; with a shotgun, I would aim for the body and not be at all particular where the pellets struck. I am not a marksman, and making a choice between killing and missing is not an option. I would shoot to kill. While some or all of this may be viewed as paranoid, our paranoia is shared by the other residents of our small community.

Another non-option would be to try to sit down and reason together with such people; to understand the problems which drove them to attack us, to understand the pitiful circumstances which may have driven them to misbehave, and to show them the true light. This might, but probably would not, cause them to die of laughter. Far more likely, they would respond by killing me and raping and then killing my wife.

I think that an analogy can properly be made to terrorists who fly aircraft into buildings full of people, who bomb buildings full of people, who lob missiles into civilian areas full of people as in Israel, and who otherwise spread deadly havoc. They do not "play" by any rules to which we are accustomed, and more than likely are quite happy to rely on the fact that we like to follow the sort of rules which they do not. Nor is there any readily available police force to call upon for assistance; 911 calls to the United Nations are not answered quickly, if at all, and even then only eventually and with deliberations, resolutions and at best ineffective sanctions.

In recent days, the United States has been preoccupied with the tales of "torture" and other very unpleasant things done to prevent more terrorist attacks. We have apparently decided that we are in a boxing match in which we must, to preserve (or perhaps regain) our moral virginity, adhere to the Marquess of Queensbury's rules when our attackers adhere to no rules whatever save one -- to kill us and to disrupt our affairs to the greatest extent possible. Our moral outrage at those who would try to protect us has been great and doubtless very comforting to some -- including to those who seek to kill as many of us as possible; toward the latter, there seems to have been far less moral outrage.

To seek "exceptionalism" by touting one's extraordinarily superior morality in the face of very real and life threatening dangers at the hands of those who adhere to extraordinarily different moral codes, and who seek their own "exceptionalism" through deadly terror attacks, strikes me as suicidal. The United States is and has long been a good and law-abiding country. In her dealings with other good and law abiding countries, she should continue to be good and law abiding. However, she is now facing, and has faced for several years, dangers which are quite different from any encountered before. She is currently engaged with neither a good and law-abiding country as an opponent, nor for that matter, even a country in many cases. She faces in macrocosm what my wife and I personally face on a far smaller and quite personal scale. A difference is that the United States has already been attacked, and we have not yet been.

In dealing with terrorists who are trying very energetically to kill us, we should not be so piously stuck up about our beloved moral superiority that we fail to fight them on something approaching comparable terms. To fail to do so evidences the type of pride which goes before a fall, possibly a fatal fall.

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