Second Mover Advantage In American Military History

The United States has been in a great many wars, but many of them have followed a consistent pattern.  The Americans are minding their own business blithely going about their business of trading and seeking to do business throughout the whole world for adventure and profit, and find themselves surprised by someone who attacks them.  This is viewed as a cowardly surprise attack and despite being initially unprepared, the response on the part of the American people is to mobilize for war, at which point it is conducted with a high degree of chance for success.  Frequently in American History–starting from colonial times, the ordinary American has been caught by surprise by a sudden wave of violence directed at the United States and has responded with fury.  Witness, for example, Ft. Sumter, Pearl Harbor, the Zimmerman Telegram, the explosion of the Maine in Havana harbor, 9/11, or the British response to the Boston Tea Party as ways that the people of the United States were mobilized to resist hostile actions taken towards them by foreign powers.

Even in cases where the Americans were acting in a provocative fashion, there was still a massive psychological advantage to be had in being the second mover responding to hostile action rather than being the side who initiated the strike.  Why is that?  What is the advantage to striking back rather than making the first blow?  On a tactical level, being on the aggressive offers the benefits of being able to choose one’s targets and to set the tempo of violence, while being on the defensive frequently forces one to respond to events rather than being able to force the tone, at least initially.  There does appear, though, to be considerable benefits on a political, diplomatic, logistical, and psychological level to being the responding party in violence.  One can build a larger base of support for people who are willing to fight back than one can to aggressively attack someone who has not been threatening.  People will be more motivated to fight when attacked than when attacking, and to support a strong government making a vigorous response to an attack, and even to the sacrifices that are necessary converting an economy to wartime means.  It is not, after all, predetermined that an initial defense precludes a later offensive.  In all of the wars where America was attacked, the response to that attack included some serious offensives, though sometimes it took some time for the military to be prepared for this.

If we are looking at the run-up to a civil war situation, it is clear that the leftist anarchists and Marxists are the aggressors in this conflict, committing acts of terror against police officers, ordinary people, and public and private property.  Instead of an 1850’s Bleeding Kansas situation this looks like a 1930’s Spain sort of situation, where the initial violent moves were made by the left and where the reply was a systematic repression of anarchist and socialist forces.  Admittedly, this would not have seemed like a good scenario even ten years ago, but now it seems like a best-case scenario given the intransigence and violence of the revolutionary left and their handmaidens and allies in various institutions like the media.  Of course, this sort of scenario does involve mutual violence and battles the possible long and bloody sieges of buildings followed by lengthy imprisonment terms and hard labor for the unemployable soyboys and soygirls on the side of the radical left.  Still, it does not appear as if there is a way forward for our country that does not involve some sort of violence.  If we do not want revolutionaries to take over, counterrevolutionary efforts appear to be necessary, however unpleasant.  It is vitally important though for the morale of ordinary people that any violent response be in defense, because we are not well-suited to thinking of ourselves as aggressive and have little motivation in general for offensive wars.  But woe be to those who attack us.


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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