Putting an End to Aggression

By: Robert Patton, Staff Writer

Aggression is a simple word. Defense is not aggression. Building up or exhibiting strength is not aggression. Aggression involves the initiation of force against a peaceful individual, organization, or nation. The force doesn’t always need to be physical. It can be a threat. The bank robber who presents a demand for cash in the form of a note is an aggressor. Sometimes the aggression can take the form of trickery or deception. Bernie Madoff deceived people into turning over hundreds of millions of dollars, in the belief that he was going to manage and invest their savings for them.

Aggression is a pretty simple idea. But, somehow, most of us have trouble grasping the concept of it. Many people believe in something that I’ll call, for want of a better term, relative aggression. This is a simple idea too. Relative aggression is when aggressors are always them and never us. Relative aggression is when the term is selectively applied to some and not to others.

The invasion of Iraq is not aggression because we did it- the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq was aggression because someone else did it. Recently, the shooting of one of the demonstrators in Oregon was not aggression because the police did it. The victim, whose hands were in plain sight and empty, seemed to be moving, so he was shot. Please do not take this as saying that you can shoot someone because you don’t like the way they are moving their hands- that would be murder. Unlike the police, you are not allowed to do things like that. What might be aggression for you is police work for them.

The same thing is true on a larger scale. When the United States and France launched airstrikes against Libya, that was not aggression, regardless of  how many innocent civilians died. That’s because it was done by President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton. Like James Bond, they are licensed to kill. But, last week our current Secretary of State Kerry lambasted Putin for Russian airstrikes in Syria that killed civilians. This may be getting a little complicated… so, remember that if we kill civilians it is collateral damage; if some other nation kills civilians it is aggression. Of course, if the other nation is part of our coalition then they are allowed to kill civilians as well. More and more we are hearing the word aggression on the news, usually modified by the word Russian.

Russian aggression occurred when the citizens of Crimea voted in a referendum to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Of course, when we invaded Iraq and, while American troops were in control, elections were held, that was not aggression; that was building democracy in Iraq. When ethnic Russians, in a part of Eastern Ukraine wanted independence, no one thought they deserved the same opportunity to vote. Russian aggression was the suspicion that Russian nationals were helping the ethnic Russians in Ukraine to defend themselves against the Ukrainian army.

In order to keep this argument impartial, it’s wise that we look at either John Kerry or Hillary Clinton might say: They would explain that national boundaries are inviolable and that by annexing Crimea, and supporting ethnic Russian nationalists in Eastern Ukraine, Russia is not respecting that very fundamental principle. Well, how fundamental is that idea? It dates back to the end of the Second World War. If you remember, a failed artist with a funny black mustache was trying very hard to overrun national boundaries and no one wanted to go through that again. But there were exceptions. When the Soviet Union split up, a number of new nations spun off on their own. That was okay because they were spinning off from the USSR. When some African boundaries changed, that was okay too, because, well, we thought so.

And of course, the biggest changes of all have occurred with not only the full approval of the United States but with many, many billions of dollars in financial support from the United States. Guess where that was. If you guessed the ever shifting borders between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors, you have certainly been keeping up with current events in late 20th century history. And, if the young United States had sworn off aggression and forcibly changing boundaries, we might still be 13 or 14 states strung out along the Atlantic coast. Well, that’s something of an exaggeration; we did pay for the Louisiana territory and Alaska.

But wait, am I forgetting that the original residents of this great land were mostly killed off and the few that remained were moved onto reservations.

On a more cheerful note, can you imagine a world where no one is forced to do anything. Think about it- no more aggression. People will still disagree on things, but no one will resort to force of any kind. If there was anything of a peaceful nature that you disagreed with, you could not reach for a gun, you could not even call the police, and you couldn’t write to your Congressman. You would have only one option. You could use persuasion. You would be living in a world that has not yet existed: a world based on respect for others, on cooperation, and on peaceful dialogue.

In the 1920s a controversial book appeared that examined the distinction between social interaction based on mutual cooperation and that based on force. The author was a German sociologist, Franz Oppenheimer; the book was The State.

Oppenheimer’s examination of this distinction was succinct: “There are two fundamentally opposed means” he wrote, “whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. Robbery! Forcible appropriation! These words convey to us ideas of crime and the penitentiary, since we are the contemporaries of a developed civilization, specifically based on the inviolability of property. And this tang is not lost when we are convinced that land and sea robbery is the primitive relation of life, just as the warrior’s trade – which also, for a long time, is only organized mass robbery – constitutes the most respected of occupations. Both because of this, and also on account of the need of having, in the further development of this study, terse, clear, sharply opposing terms for these very important contrasts, I propose in the following discussion- to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others. The ‘economic means’ for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the ‘political means.'”

This idea did not, of course, find fertile ground in Nazi Germany so, it is no surprise, that in 1938 Oppenheimer left Germany and, by way of Shanghai and Tokyo, emigrated to Los Angeles. After the fall of Nazi Germany, Oppenheimer’s ideas bore fruit in the hands of his student Ludwig Erhard, who is considered the one largely responsible for the economic miracle that took place in Germany after the war. Perhaps it’s time for an economic miracle in America as well–one based on peace and cooperation and not on war and violence