Thomas Sowell
Since when has it been considered smart to tell your enemies what your plans are?

Yet there on the front page of the April 8th New York Times was a story about how unnamed "American officials" were planning a "proportional" response to any North Korean attack. This was spelled in an example: If the North Koreans "shell a South Korean island that had military installations" then the South Koreans would retaliate with "a barrage of artillery of similar intensity."

Whatever the merits or demerits of such a plan, what conceivable purpose can be served by telling the North Koreans in advance that they need fear nothing beyond a tit for tat? All that does is lower the prospective cost of aggression.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, should we have simply gone over and bombed a harbor in Japan? Does anyone think that this response would have stopped Japanese aggression? Or stop other nations from taking shots at the United States, when the price was a lot lower than facing massive retaliation?

Back before the clever new notion of "proportional" response became the vogue, our response to Pearl Harbor was ultimately Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And Japan has not attacked or even threatened anybody since then. Nor has any war broken out anywhere that is at all comparable with World War II.

Which policy is better? There was a time when we followed the ancient adage "By their fruits ye shall know them." The track record of massive retaliation easily beats that of the more sophisticated-sounding proportional response.

Back in ancient times, when Carthage attacked Rome, the Romans did not respond "proportionally." They wiped Carthage off the face of the earth. That may have had something to do with the centuries of what was called the Pax Romano -- the Roman peace.

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, the British simply sent troops to take the islands back -- despite American efforts to dissuade Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from doing even that.

For more than a century since the British settled in the Falkland Islands, Argentina had not dared to invade them. Why?

Because, until recent times, an Argentine attack on a British settlement would be risking not only a British counterattack there, but the danger of a major British attack on Argentina itself. That could mean leaving Buenos Aires in ruins.

Today, Argentina's government is again making threatening noises about the Falkland Islands. Why not? The most the Argentines have to fear is a "proportional" response to aggression -- and the Obama administration has already urged "negotiations" instead of even that. When threats are rewarded, why not make threats, when there are few dangers to fear?


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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