Sunday, April 29, 2007

A New Doctrine
Mike Rappaport

What should the students at Virginia Tech have done and why didn't they do it?  This column starts to explain what happened and I think it gets it entirely right.  The students didn't do anything because we have been taught not to do anything in those situations.  The hard question is what we should do.  Any suggestions?  But, please, only after reading the linked to column.

Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds

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Mike Rappaport


I agree with the column. I especially like that the article focused on the doctrine instead of the victims. The only suggestion I offer is a wider call for people to act during emergencies instead of remaining passive. We hear about the psychological phenomena that bystanders gawk instead of calling the police or attempting to help the injured persons. If gawking instead of helping is a common social behavior, then we should train society against it. We train people how to deal with earthquakes, and how to deal with fires, so we should be able to teach people, ideally when young, to deal with emergencies in general. The folks on Flight 93 knew they had to act when they talked to people on the ground. The folks who subdued the shoe-bomber also knew they had to act. The professor who barricaded the door knew he had to act. We could teach these as examples.

Of course, there are certain situations, like a mugging, where increasing violence may not be the best thing to do.

The more people know that their safety is their own responsibility, especially in the lag time before first responders arrive, the safer society will be. Although we do not know all of the facts of VA Tech, a concerted rush of students even untrained in self defense may have been able to stop or at least slow the attacker, especially since reloading was involved.

Posted by: Gregory Saybolt | Apr 29, 2007 1:20:02 AM

"Of course, there are certain situations, like a mugging, where increasing violence may not be the best thing to do."

I think the recent stories in the press regarding old ladies successfully repelling their attackers seem to belie this tjeroy also.


Posted by: thedaddy | Apr 29, 2007 5:43:59 AM

oops! S/B theory

Posted by: thedaddy | Apr 29, 2007 5:45:49 AM

I'm afraid things are too far gone already. Once a culture becomes effete, it never recovers. It is conquered and displaced. Europe is already long gone; America is well along the path with all signs pointing to terminal decay.

To wit: our current handwringing about the Iraq war. "The people have spoken," and placed in power legislators who endorse the national equivalent of cowering under our desks waiting for the coup de grace in the face of Islamic fascism.

Our attitudes toward self-defense on the local and international levels are exactly parallel: it is widely held to be morally wrong to answer force with counterforce, regardless of the provocation. What would stimulate Americans to exit their saccharine fantasy world of "learning to get along" or "opening a dialog" with brutal international Islamic thugs and local schizophrenic homicidal madmen? We have seen by recent events on both scales - the 9/11 atrocity, the Virginia Tech massacre - that after initial shock and anger, we shrug our shoulders collectively and say, "Well, what can you do?"

Si vis pocem, para bellum. This dictum, while true, presupposes a robust culture to begin with. I believe our culture by its very defining themes of liberality, inclusiveness, and the rule of law - leaving the resolution of dispute and the squelching of violence in all forms to the collective social apparatus (and the squelching to be done as non-violently as possible) - is already spiraling inexorably toward a final state of personal and national impotence.

Of course, in supposing such a dismal prospect the question arises, what supplants the effete cultural norms? History gives the answer, I think. The old values get discarded, and an ugly new set of cultural (and thus political) values are substituted. It has long been observed that people will trade just about anything for security, most notably their freedom. So I will not be surprised to witness a rise of new demagoguery out of the ashes of whatever horrific events eventually happen on our soil. Those who wrung their hands at the Patriot Act will fail to see the irony when New Measures are announced.

As an aside, I would like to point out a marker or index, if you will, for this state of personal and national weakness of resolve. That is quite simply the death penalty. As a culture, the West has shown progressively more squeamishness about applying this penalty, no matter what the provocation. Europe has no death penalty anywhere of which I know, and European states refuse to extradite even the most heinous terrorists to a country that might kill them. The death penalty in this country remains in force in the law only in some states, with constant pressure to repeal it or simply never carry it out. Note that there is no such squeamishness in the benighted Islamic lands. Is this coincidence? I think not.

Posted by: Jeff Hull | Apr 29, 2007 7:39:23 AM

This general proposal for changing the public's reaction to extreme situations is fatally flawed. It has been the relentless approach of government for forty years at every level to aggressively remove the citizen from taking responsibility for his own security, much less for anothers. This has gone so far as to be unlawful in some circumstances. It is nonsensical to then suppose the government will instruct us to do otherwise, or that it would have any moral weight to do so.
Solutions? We choose to learn, or not, from experience. The holocost survivor learned, and he was the only one. It only takes a few to break the inertia of others. We shall see. Perhaps, ironically, it is the camels nose under the tent that may yet re-introduce us to our courage and responsibilities.

Posted by: james wilson | Apr 29, 2007 8:47:33 AM

Interesting, isn't it, that the new doctrine has emerged from the citizens on Flight 93, not from The State? You in the US have a chance to adopt the New Doctrine. We in Britain haven't, since we'd be jailed if we used it successfully.

Posted by: dearieme | Apr 29, 2007 9:14:52 AM

I don't get it. We're supposedly on the road to ruin because our culture is "effete"; for example, because we rarely use the death penalty, in contrast to Islamic States? How is it, then, that our "effete" culture has produced by far the most powerful military ever known, and dominates the world in economic matters and popular culture? How did our country, with such a "decaying" culture, successfully defeat the Soviet Union over a 50-year period? The Soviets, as I recall, weren't at all "squeamish" about using brutal methods to consolidate power.

Also, since when is it a good idea to use Islamic states as a standard to which to aspire? Al Qaeda's periodic terrorism aside, I don't see that the various Islamic states are doing all that well compared to the United States.

Posted by: Tillman Fan | May 1, 2007 1:41:20 PM

What we have accomplished in the past does not guarantee what we will accomplish in the future. Since the Vietnam days, we have had the most potent military in the history of the world, yet lacked the political will at home to use it most effectively. Our enemies suffer no such self-hobbling, and they have been winning. I think your statements about our PAST accomplishments are true, but submit that they are a form of whistling past the graveyard.

I am not holding up Islamic thugs as a standard to which we should aspire, as you claim. I am simply drawing a parallel: people who accept the premise that force is not justified - be it on the local scale of the punishment of criminals or the international scale of the punishment of countries that mean us deadly harm - will find it difficult to prevail against the lawless person or state (or ideological movement) that has no such scruples.

I am not happy about this state of affairs. But I see the accounts of students standing immobile, waiting to be gunned down and envision a great and powerful nation immobilized by indecision and self-criticism in the face of terrible threats. Are we on the "road to ruin," as you characterize my post? I cannot say. But if there is some feature of contemporary American (and Western) democratic society that I am missing - some wellspring of courage and fortitude that will any day now manifest itself - let's hear about it. I could use some cheering up.

Posted by: Jeff Hull | May 1, 2007 3:59:05 PM

I think a very thick and defined line may be drawn between our personality in the sphere of foreign policy and that here at home. Look at defense spending and how it is used. We aren't equipping police and domestic forces. We are shipping our force abroad. Star Wars and missile shields, nuclear submarines and special forces--in the international playground, we don't shy from confrontation. Our foreign dialogue is always conducted with a very big, efficient attack dog at our feet.
At home, our wealth provides us the luxury to actually care about a killer's feelings and rights. That's actually a good thing. But it is a luxury and should remain prioritized accordingly. I think American individuality quickly rises to the surface when threatened at home, especially in rural areas. It won't take too many more VTs before individual citizen's take individual responsibility--to the horror of liberal sympathies. I just applied for my first concealed weapons permit last week.

Posted by: Sam Goble | May 1, 2007 5:20:11 PM

To Jeff Hull (who asked for contemporary examples of courage and fortitude) and Sam Goble (who stated that American individuality rises to the surface when threatened, "especially in rural areas"), I say take a look at the actions on 9/11 of (a) the firefighters, (b) the passengers on Flight 93, and (c) everyone else in NYC who dealt very well with a totally unimaginable catastrophe.

Perhaps the problem in Iraq isn't that Americans no longer possess "courage" or "fortitude," but rather that they don't see the point of our sacrifice in that particular place at this particular time.

Posted by: Tillman Fan | May 1, 2007 5:56:14 PM

I don't think that what we do in extremis for our own people in time of local catastrophe translates as reliably as you imply into how we will respond to more distant threats. But it is a good point. Trouble is, the vast majority of us are not policemen or firemen (or soldiers).

My problem is your second statement, that "they don't see the point of our sacrifice in that particular place at this particular time." Merits of the case of the Iraq war laid aside, the statement itself is a rationalization of avoidance of confrontation. I could accept it less suspiciously if the next statement in train were, "Now, here is where and when we WILL fight." I have yet to hear the second part anywhere.

Posted by: Jeff Hull | May 2, 2007 6:14:36 AM

First, 'in rural areas' was mostly a quip about how, in more rural areas, aggressive behaviors and reactions can be tolerated. As communities become more crowded, as a whole, law abiding persons are conditioned to be more docile and submissive to authority. It is a generalization. I don't think that this is necessarily an all bad thing--it just is. (I applied for my concealed weapons permit in Utah (rural), where 26% of applications are from out of state, because the California (urban) regs are a headache).

Second, I think you somewhat misunderstand my main point. Fight 93 reinforces what I'm trying to say: In spite of some assertions to the contrary, Americans individuality will shine through, even while some academia and domestic trends seek to dampen it.

I don't think students hesitation in VT will be the new norm, just as flight 93 quickly adapted to the threat before it; American effete indocriniation aside, Americans as individuals will stick up for themselves. The next school attacker may kill again, but he'll be stopped by a hand other than his own.

Posted by: Sam Goble | May 2, 2007 1:15:55 PM

Sam Goble -- Okay. I think that I agree with you. My point was that I didn't "get" the handwringing about our culture being in terminal decay, when I think that most objective indicators don't support that statement.

Posted by: Tillman Fan | May 2, 2007 1:51:05 PM