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Bar Fighting and War Making

During my last visit home the inevitable happened, a fight broke out. From our stools in the corner of our favorite bar, my friends and I watched two young men rage at each other, throw glasses and then punches until a bouncer broke it up. I wondered, who was to blame for this fight?

From what I’ve seen, most post-bar fight scenes are the same. Both sides plead innocence. Whoever swings first accuses the other side of some lesser physical contact, like a shove or they claim that the other guy was “coming at me.” Each side will accuse the other of being overtly aggressive, like he "got up in my face." Both sides will justify themselves by saying their opponent was “talking trash.” Frequently, the classic justification is the “other guy” called their female companion a bitch, or some other derogatory comment.

Each side in a bar fight appeals for innocence through inevitability; be it the other person’s verbal or physical actions, most fighters believe they are justified in their actions. Yes, I am taking fist fighting to legalistic, academic extremes but the point remains: in the vast majority of fights, neither side believes they were in the wrong. At this point, three possibilities could be true:

    1. One side is at fault.
    2. Neither side is at fault.
    3. Both sides are at fault.

Usually only the third option makes sense. People who get in fights tend to get in fights frequently.  Few people are this honest about their intentions. When asked, it is insults and perceived “disrespect” that motivates people to start brawling. The vast majority of people do not get in fights; the difference is when the average person is “slighted” they don’t use it to justify fighting. Therefore, when it comes to bar fights, both sides must have some degree of blame.

Why this meditation on bar fights? Because when soldiers and upper level brass talk about the Global War on Terror, they tell us, "We had this fight thrust upon us." Or as President Bush called the Global War on Terror, "A war we did not start."

I have ignored opportunities to fight before, could America have ignored the terrorists? Could we have treated them as criminals instead of starting a Global War on Terror? If we can metaphorically get in a bar fight, can we metaphorically walk away?

Iraq tells an oddly similar tale to a bar fight. More than misperceived aggression, it was America’s first preemptive strike.  We had dozens of options about how to respond to Iraq that did not involve war. We had no impending threat; we had a justification to fight and we took it.

Often, the police give up on assigning blame on calls about fights and declare them “mutual combat.” Police officers understand a truth about fighting: each side is to blame.

two comments

How do you “walk away” in the global community. At times it’s possible, but in many circumstances such an act by the government would be considered criminal. Assuming we did have intelligence suggesting Iraq had WMD – which, while many will call that ludicrous in the face of the findings once we invaded, we will never know the truth until all intelligence is disclosed in the future. So I will trust the government’s assertions that we at least least had reason to believe they did – so, assuming that what are our options? Using the bar fight analogy I think this siutation is similar to a man walking around with a weapon of some sort freely telling the room he intends to use it on a certain person’s friend/girlfriend. Does that friend not have the responsibility to do something about it? Does he not at least have the right? Let’s say he calls the police who tell the man to leave the bar and then stand outside. The man doesn’t leave the bar but becomes more aggressive. Suppose the man can’t leave the bar for some reason. How does he “walk away” then? Governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens. If we always wait until we are attacked, or if we fail to stay ahead of our enemies we are in essence sentencing our own civilians to death. Maybe that’s a little extreme, but it is the government’s job to protect us from the outside.


I think the police, in your analogy, are the global community. The police respond to threats, and the global community didn’t feel there was a threat.