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Attack & Defence

from the archives, 2016

Today, in the interests of peace, we take a critical look at the conventional thinking around the issue of attack and defence. At the way people, individually and collectively, justify sliding into conflict situations.

Remember, the making of peace is holy, rather than the making of war.

The testimony of soldiers and those who have served in war zones does not glamorise war. They recount that war is lamentable; that there is nothing glorious about it; that it should be avoided at all costs. So if war happens or exists, let us not make a virtue of it. It is a fruit of our human failings - if nothing else, our failure to live peacefully.

To glorify and glamorise violence goes along with finding justification for it.

And we do seek to justify it, usually in a very roundabout way, to disguise our impulses - even from ourselves. As a race, we score poorly on owning up to our aggression. We typically invoke the right to self-defence. This principle, which has taken the world by storm, on close inspection, is found to be problematic, and it is sobering to ponder the problems associated with it, before flinging it around too glibly. How can we prepare for peace without questioning the assumptions of conventional thinking?

Every aggressor - including those who are most loathed to history - invokes self-defence in the waging of war.

It is highly likely for two parties in a conflict to blame each other for starting it. This much even the nightly news can reveal. Bringing in a “neutral arbiter” can be problematic because outside powers tend to align with one side or another. But even were this not the case, the parties may be too embroiled to de-escalate their conflict.

The need for defence arises from the sense of being attacked; and freedom is naturally thought of as freedom from attack. So the problems of self-defence boil down to the problems bound up in perceiving the threat of an attack on oneself.

One problem is that a belief in attack inclines an individual or society towards a “pre-emptive strike”, on the premise that “attack is the best form of defence”.

Waiting to get hit first may leave one too debilitated to retaliate effectively. The combatant will always want to get a shot off before the knife is thrust into him or a bullet absorbed, or a nuke dropped. The line starts to get blurred between defence and attack. Then the “who started it?” question becomes academic.

A related problem is that it’s all too easy to fall foul of the playbook principle of “proportionate force”.

The defender must do whatever it takes to stop the perceived threat, even to the point of using deadly force. The overkill of law-enforcement officers in a fearful, trigger-happy environment are painfully apparent. The more a party’s awareness is fearfully contracted into defending itself, the more heedless it becomes of the harm it metes out to its opponent. A fight is almost synonymous with disregard with the opponent’s welfare and sense of security.

Which comes first, the disregard for the enemy’s security or being embattled?

Cruelty and kindness become strange bedfellows. The contradiction of hating and loving uneasily exist. The absurdity is reached of trying to resist the evil enemy and care for him at the same time. In between the two logical positions of resisting and destroying the evil enemy and not resisting and loving him, is the bizarre spectacle of blowing limbs off, then sending in the doctor.

Late in the day - or never - it occurs that regard for the enemy’s security is perhaps the best way to find safety oneself.

It’s been said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names shall never hurt me”. Wrong! There exists psychological, verbal and emotional abuse.

Verbal attacks can damage reputation, endangering life, limb and property, and often compromising the ability to earn a living. Herein lies another problem : attack violates our neat mind-body dichotomy. It’s impossible to draw a line and say only a physical transgression counts as an attack. The initiator of physical force invariably feels vilified or violated in a non-overt way. Does this not further blur the line between defence and attack?

Finally, there is a deeper, subtler problem with our conventional thinking around attack and defence. People tend to believe that there is no organic connection between one’s inner states and external threats. Self-defence courses and even psychic self-defence courses are offered to those who are concerned that they may be suddenly, unpredictably attacked by the malicious; that a good person could inexplicably fall prey to a bad person. There is however a conceivable challenge to this assumption : that all exterior conflict is a reflection of an interior conflict.

Could fear of oneself attract an external enemy?

Could an attacking part of oneself be running up against a defensive part ? Is there a part of the individual psyche that is foreigner, alien, to the rest and thus not trusted and embraced? Is there a dysfunctional relationship between the unconscious and conscious?

Is it conceivable that the best protection against the bogey of attack is in embracing not resisting the perceived danger? The idea of defencelessness is terrifying to the fearful, but to one who can question his fear, might it be liberating?

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