Deconstructing an Appeal to Genocide, or, when the #Resistance falls prey to fear
What follows is an actual appeal to war and genocide made by a self-proclaimed anti-war activist. This is interesting to me on several levels. The first being that it is obviously hypocritical, so what makes a smart person engage in blatant hypocrisy? The second item of interest is the absolute lack of justification for such an appeal; why can the author not justify themselves? The third is the context of the claim; why has the author only now succumb to such depths of thought? I will take apart the claim bit by bit in an effort to answer these questions and hopefully, should the author read this post, aid in returning this person to a more coherent state of mind. The original Facebook post is quoted in full and bolded for clarity, but broken up chunk by chunk for analysis. I have withheld my personal thoughts until the end and simply focused on the post in an effort to make this informative rather than argumentative.
“I personally, would like to see North Korea completely annihilated. Flattened. Reset.
Men, Women, Children. Sorry. It’s now us or them, I choose them. I still like California.”
The author is clearly advocating genocide here. I take this to be the thesis, if you will, of the appeal and the rest to be supporting justification. Note the framing of the situation as “us or them,” an absolutist and essentialist position that is very dangerous and historically nearly always present in justifications for atrocities.
“Okay, before everyone goes nuts on this post-because it’s already happening. What is the alternative at this point? I love peace. I hate war. I’ve been an anti war activist for over a decade. But, for everyone who is shocked and disgusted by this post, saying it’s so
“Out of character for me” I know that those words are horrible. But what exactly, at this point, do you think North Korea will do?”
There are two questions in this paragraph and they become conflated. They are:
1) What is the alternative at this point?
2) But what exactly, at this point, do you think North Korea will do?
The second question is somewhat addressed next.
“They will not negotiate. We have tried. They kept advancing their missile program even though we threatened them not to. They have stated that they were going to “hit the United States”. Yesterday, we confirmed that they now can.”
This does not answer the question at hand (what will NK do?), and it is likely that we cannot know this answer, but we do find a handful of falsities and exaggerations. North Korea has absolutely tried to negotiate. Here is an objective timeline of this fact and here is an informative thread that covers the topic with internal links of interest as well. The latter is especially useful for understanding the history of the Korean peninsula and our actions there (spoiler: they were terrible).
NK has indeed stated that they intend to hit the US, but this statement must be taken in context. Many countries threaten war—none more so than ours!—and each threat must be contextualized. This particular threat is a portion of a series of threats that have taken place during the recent escalation of rhetoric. To frame the situation as NK stating something out of the blue is unfair. After all, any statement can be isolated from its context and made to look ridiculous.
Returning to the post, we appear to go back to the first question.
“So, before you flip out on me. What do you propose we do? Wait this one out until the West Coast is gone? Then strike back and they lose millions too? My post was not “bloodthirsty” it would save millions of lives.
If they hit us, we hit back.
That’s double the amount of casualties.
My solution, while harsh and horrendous, saves lives.”
We do not receive an answer to the question “what is the alternative?” but instead find more justification for genocide. This is likely because the author cannot conceive of an alternative. There are several formal fallacies committed here, namely appeal to probability (that NK will fire a missile), argument from fallacy (the author cannot conceive of an alternative therefore the alternative conclusions that exist are invalid), and conjunction fallacy (genocide stops NK and saves us, therefore is more probable than simply stopping NK or saving ourselves). These are just formal fallacies, the quoted passage is riddled with informal fallacies but I think my point here is taken: this is not sufficient justification for genocide. Can there ever be such a thing? I don't know, but this surely isn't it.
The author also senses their argument is weak as they attempt to frame it as a utilitarian play. They write that they are not “bloodthirsty” because genocide “would save millions of lives.” This is a poorly executed attempt at a classic utilitarian argument: would you kill one person to save five? Ten? Fifty? And so forth. Yet unlike philosophical thought experiments, the author has no information as to how many Koreans would die vs. how many Americans would die. Thus this is not a utilitarian argument, one would need strict numbers to make such a claim, but a failed attempt at becoming one.
“The complicated part is China and Russia. It’s all a mess, but-not super interested in finding out if he was just kidding or not. By then? Everyone you know in California, Oregon, Washington, will be dead. That includes women and children.
This is a formal logical fallacy known as affirming the disjunct. In short, the author is saying A or B (us or them), A therefore not B (us therefore not them). Employing this fallacy demonstrates the closed-mindedness of the argument at hand. Indeed, the author has fallen subject to something I wrote about fairly recently: panic. This is evidenced by the claim that the author is “not super interested in finding out” if the threats are real. Such a sealing off of potential avenues of action is a sign of fear and panic: don’t worry about whether or not it’s real, just run. Only in this case we are not running but advocating the wholesale slaughter of millions of innocent people and potentially launching a thermo-nuclear conflict that could engulf the globe. But hey, I like California too.
Panic is a threat to us all and more so, in my mind, than North Korea. The truth is that a strike by NK on the US is not an option for it would result in the complete retaliatory destruction of NK. To believe that Kim Jong-un would sacrifice his people and country for a single attack on the states is irrational at best and disturbing at worst. But panic and fear lead to disturbing things. These feelings detach us from our intellectual strength and return us to fight or flight. If the stakes were lower it would matter less but we are talking about world wide nuclear conflict here. We cannot succumb to panic.
The only reasonable solution to this situation is to leave North Korea alone. I promise that if this were to be done we would never hear another threat from them again. But it takes courage to leave someone alone who is actively threatening you; it takes composure and strength. Who are we as activists, progressives, radicals, abolitionists, and caring people if we are not courageous, composed, and strong? The answer is that we become pawns, pawns to fear, pawns to panic, and pawns to people who will exploit these facts for their own gain. The people of North Korea have done nothing to us and wish us no harm. Let us reciprocate this fact or else be held directly accountable for the actions of our "leader."