The Charlotte News

Friday, September 12, 1941


Site Ed. Note: "The Power to Declare War" grabs the President's metaphor of the rattlesnake from his speech the night before and runs with it. At first glance, one might draw from it some support for the oxymoronic concept of "anticipatory self-defense", one nowhere heard of this side du le fin in the annals of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence.

Self-defense and defense of others require for their application a reasonable and good faith belief, under the circumstances apparent to a reasonable person standing in the shoes of the person exercising the right (meaning that a jury ultimately would be the determiner on the issue if it proceeded to trial civilly or criminally), of an apprehension of an imminent assault on one's person or that of another, where an assault is defined as an intentional and offensive, non-consensual touching or attempted touching of the body by another. If the apparent aggressor relents and indicates expressly or manifests by behavior an intention to separate, dehors combat, the right of self-defense and defense of others cease, at least until a counter-manifestation is indicated by the original combatant. The initial provocation determines the combatant.

One cannot, for instance, raise a stick in one's hand at arm's length from another, shake the stick menacingly, whereupon the other person lunges and hits the initial aggressor, and the initial aggressor justly claim self-defense in then beating the person senseless with the stick. Self-defense belongs to the persons against whom the stick was shook, but only by using counter-force up to that necessary under the circumstances reasonably to resist the unlawful assault threatened by shaking the stick menacingly, i.e., by a roughly equivalent force to that of the stick thusly shook.

But if the person against whom the stick was shook pulls out a gun and shoots the stick shaker, likely such force would be deemed excessive and unreasonable under the circumstances and, while the initial provocation might mitigate the assault or, if homicide, reduce the offense to manslaughter, still the person using the gun could and probably would be charged with a crime. If the stick shaker, however, by that means shaking, weighs 300 lbs. and the shooter, 120 lbs., such relative disparity in size might be taken into account as a circumstance to be weighed to determine reasonableness of force under the circumstances, provided the 300 pounder is capable of mobility in an aggressive direction toward the defender. His or her fate, in any event, would likely be consigned to a jury. Good luck, stick shaker or shooter of the stick shaker, shaking all over.

On the other hand, if a person raises a stick and says in a normal tone, "Look, what a beautiful stick I have, like unto a rose it be, of just thus such noble wit and unattainable secure and humble origins but by these presents known only to man's infinitely facile senses. Cut it off a sycamore just this morning. Look at the nice, immutably matable surface joining that which was a tree it has and the aesthetic curve of the branch on which pinion blossomed many a lovely flower in its days of natural plantation," whereupon someone standing six feet away pulls a gun and shoots the person dead, it is likely bye-bye to the shooter who failed to appreciate the poetry of the moment and to distinguish that from an implied threat for want of reading enough in scholarship while thus growing of age. Cold walls and steel bars will have thereby his name etched on them for life.

So, with all of that in mind, upon a little reflection on the actual situation to which FDR was applying his rattlesnake metaphor--that being the whole of Central Europe, part of China, Indochina, Ethiopia, parts of North Africa, Great Britain and Russia, all already having been bitten venomously--, any support lent as an analogue to pre-emptive warfare vanishes into the vapors of thin air within the empyrean, as surely as Hitler's rationales for each of his invasive moves, as surely as Tojo's, as surely as Mussolini's.

Roosevelt was not supporting any anticipatory self-defense doctrine. That would have been so only had, for instance, the United States immediately sent an expeditionary force as soon as Hitler annexed the Saar in 1935 or Memel in March, 1939 by convention of rigged plebiscites, just as with Austria in March, 1938; nay, the doctrine would have been applicable only if an AEF were sent to Europe based on scant and unreliable intelligence from inside the Reich that Hitler was thinking about doing it, the annexation, and had his scientists working on a rocket-bomb to launch against England, that is, in 1938.

But by the time FDR talked of this rattlesnake, the asp was slithering well along on his serpentine course. The concept of defense of others, namely Britain, Russia, was perfectly valid by 1940-41. Pre-emptive war is something else: It strikes before there arises the availability of self-defense or defense of others in any legal sense. It anticipates and imagines the need for self-defense before self-defense exists or arises with any justice for its application. It strikes based on assumption that the other fellow is about to strike, even though no objectively reasonable and credible evidence, the coiling within snake-jump reach, exists to support such a belief, and in the face even of counter-indicators. It is, in short, lunacy, paranoia and dissociational reality worthy of a drug addict, such as Herr Goering.

"A Wretched Man" tells of the banning by Georgia Governor Gene Talmadge of Howard Odum's Southern Regions as being unduly subversive on matters related to the "Negro question" and evolution. (If the latter basis for banning a book sounds familiar enough even today, consider that it is also as equally likely that the former is, sub silentio, also usually in play in such circumstances, and without other central purpose than to effectuate a return to earlier times with respect to the former, not so much the latter. Thus, not surprisingly, most such banning activity comes out of the retrograde South.)

Wonder what the Governor thought of The Mind of the South--which in the spring of 1941 had enjoyed for awhile best-seller status among Atlanta's non-fiction, one of the few cities where it attracted such sales. Maybe Governor Talmadge hadn't as yet got around to reading it. Regardless, Cash was gentle, merely remarking in neutral language of Talmadge's return as Governor, succeeding Little E.D. Rivers:

Demagogues in plenty there were, from both sides of the fence. Cotton Ed Smith, of South Carolina, remained in the Senate as the archetype of the man who served only the planter and industrial interests in his state, while whipping up and delighting the people with attacks on the Negro, appeals to such vague shibboleths as states' rights, and heroic gasconade of every sort. Blease had been retired to private life by a clientele grown at length tired of his bluster. And Huey Long was dead and his gang in prison or on the way to prison. But there was Bilbo, of Mississippi, in the Senate and proposing to solve the problems of the South by deporting all its Negroes to Africa; and Robert Rice Reynolds of North Carolina, posing as the great champion of the people, but doing nothing for them except attempting to stir them to a crusade of hatred against aliens, of which his state had the smallest proportion in the nation. There was Little Ed Rivers, serving as Governor of Georgia and setting up to be devoted heart and soul to the New Deal and to the service of the masses, but actually serving only his own ambition and trying his best to seize arbitrary power in his state by calling out the militia to enforce high-handed and illegal orders in defiance of the rulings of both state and Federal courts. Old Gene Talmadge had just surged back from eclipse to be elected Rivers's successor. And it was at least not proved that the clean-up in Louisiana was going to result in anything but the restoration of the old Democratic hierarchical system of politics.

--The Mind of the South, Book Three, Chap. III, "Of the Great Blight--and New Quandaries", Section 22, pp. 422-23

Thus, maybe the Governor felt not inhospitable to the book, given that he got off lightly, even if mentioned among the more retrograde of contemporary politicians in the South and thus, by implication, at best probably primus inter pares. Better to be an implied than an expressed target of Cash, probably.

Raymond Clapper recaps his lunch with "The Beaver", (no, not that one, Eddy), Lord Beaverbrook of Britain, conveying that the continuing belief in the inevitability of a Nazi invasion of England had led to a tank building program. "They may come in through our windows--from the skies," he said.

And Hitler, indeed, will carry that weight for a long time, that is impelling the necessity of splitting the atom, among other things.

We also have to pause to wonder what in the world ABC washers were, sounding as washing machines. But if so, why were they sold in a music store? Washboards maybe, which doubled on Saturday night as an instrument in the hillbilly band down in Monroe? (Explaining, perhaps, why they only took baths on Saturday night? And why they needed a goods-box scraper only as a hog needs a morning coat.) In any event, we prefer the DEFGHIJ washers, ourselves. They wring so much better, at least on Tuesdays. You may find those at Callaway Music Store in High Point, except during the furniture market, when there is a run on them, in which case you may have to resort to the 123 washers, available only from the Elementary School Logic Class held in the Whileawaywhirl Library every Friday in Reyknolls-on-Avon. That is, until the air raids came to bomb the Assembly Rooms, located near the Aquae Solis, whose king was Louis-Napoleon of Vichy, one of the phalanx of phalanges involved in the Falangist movement, short of Gibraltar, near Spain.

Anyhow, tell us what you see.

Got chalk?

Incidentally, the more we think about that corollary to the Palin Plan "Drill Now!" thing, the one titled "No More Stoplights", hey, that's not really such a bad idea. Let's all run those suckers today and just see what happens. (Don't try that a' home though, young driver. We could tell you a thing or two about it. And when the driller asks, "Is it safe?" make sure you have an unambiguous answer. "I'm not entirely sure yet," does not afford the right of self-defense.)

Now, where's our banja? There you are. "Oh, Susannah..."

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