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Violence in the Interest of Good, or Good Violence

27 Jul

I originally wrote this in May, 2013:

People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

  • Richard Grenier?[1]

Most decent people would likely agree that violence is an unacceptable means with which to achieve one’s goals.  This is a virtuous principle.  What is often understated, however, is where violence is reasonably applied in the interest of peace and security it could be viewed in a more positive light.  Therefore, this paper will disembark from the idea of violence as being a tool of war and destruction.  The assertion is instead that violence may be a tool of peace.  An outline follows to illustrate the main point of the paper, which is that not all violence is inherently evil or counterproductive.  First, we will briefly consider the realm of violence as a feature of interstate relations.  Second, we will discuss the American experience with terrorism’s side effects.  Third, we’ll view a couple of examples of violence in American society.  Lastly, we will drill down to the micro-level, the individual interaction attended by violence in a limited space.  A conclusion will terminate this exercise with a few words on “good” violence.

This paper starts with a concept of violence that must be delineated, in order to limit the scope conditions and context.  Violence can be perceived to be as minimal as a nonphysical legislative measure excluding some from equal access to the law, public services or voting rights.  One can argue that there is violence in a stare, gesture, or perhaps a word uttered with contempt, disdain, or implied threat.  It can be an image (real or fake) of an act or portrayal of an act, which affects the peacefulness of the mind.  At maximum, violence can be the unprovoked murder of an individual, group, nation or even humanity itself (in nuclear terms).  These matters fall outside the definitional range of this paper, with the exception that murder is a form of violence for consideration here.

The working definition that this paper will adhere to lies somewhere within the above-established limits.  Therefore, violence is the unwelcome exertion of, or threat to exert, physical force, by one person (or persons) upon that of another.[2]   One more caveat deserves mention here.  Not for consideration is whether violence is genetically innate, nor whether it is unique to the human experience or an aberration from it.  Violence in this sense is treated as a condition that occurs with relative frequency, thus spawning a conversation about how to mitigate its effects.

Nuclear Deterrence in the Context of a Global Bipolar Divide

In thinking about violence on the global scale, one cannot avoid the imagery of war that enters one’s head in perusing the textbooks of history.  From wars of antiquity, colonial wars of conquest, Great Power wars on the European continent, to modern terrorism, violent human interactions have shaped the course of history.  The ultimate expression of violence is the deliberate destruction of the human race, which is the logic that sustained nuclear deterrence during the Cold War.  The guarantee of absolute Mutually Assured Destruction was the force that held nuclear violence in check.  The result was a cold peace, rather than an active hot (nuclear) war.

By credibly demonstrating that one’s adversary’s attempt at nuclear homicide was in fact a suicide, deterrence held.  If one considers what the core of nuclear deterrence consisted of it appears that violence of a near-unimaginable scale was the promise that the West and East made to each other.  That is the irony.  Global peace was maintained by the threat of a terminal global war.  One cannot say that violence was a good idea, but that the prospect of its use in balancing the potential of its employment by another had the net effect of cancelation, thus upholding a good outcome.  This line of reasoning does not negate the good that a nuclear-free world would introduce, but it does speak to the reality as it has been (a positive argument) and not as one may want it to be (a normative argument).  Another criticism of the above point is that using the prospect of a violent means to justify a peaceful end promotes the legitimization of violence.  It may be true, but it is also true that although many small wars around the globe may have substituted for a total nuclear war it is the lesser of evils that must be chosen in lieu of a big war from which no recovery may be hoped for.

The 21st Century American Experience with Terrorism

Although the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction are of paramount concern to the Defense Community, of equal concern is the threat terrorism poses for the U.S. Law Enforcement Community.  As a result, the mere potential for violence to be committed against an innocent, hapless citizenry by an individual or small group (of domestic or foreign origin) occupies a boundless place in domestic political discourse.

To argue that terrorism has changed the American way of life seems spurious at first glance, but perhaps there is some truth in suggesting it.  A second claim being made here is that responding to terrorism (a form of violence) in a nonviolent fashion may not be a productive pursuit in restoring a semblance of the secure conditions, which terrorism seems to aim at destroying.  For example, on 11 September 2001 an unprecedented attack was carried out on the American homeland.  The story is not worth recounting in detail, but the primary characteristics consisted of nineteen males hijacking four planes and using them as guided missiles against targets symbolizing American economic, political and military prowess (or domination, as the perpetrators would probably say).  Since civilians were especially regarded by the perpetrators as being acceptable death recipients and were successfully killed on a heretofore-unseen magnitude, it was a unique experience.  Perhaps what strikes the observer about such an attack is a combination of the penetrability of violence into an otherwise every day scene, a sense of defenselessness against it and an unhealthy awareness that nearly three thousand lives can be snuffed out within a couple hours’ time.

Four months following the events of 9/11, an interesting series of transportation-related events of a terroristic nature had begun to occur.  Each time, a reactionary measure resulted and over time, some aspect of normalcy was altered in a cumulative way.  Richard Reid had attempted to light his shoes on fire with the intent to ignite an explosion onboard an American-bound aircraft.[3]  From that point forward (until this very day), a common policy in American airports was implemented, which required all forms of footwear to be relinquished for inspection before boarding an aircraft.  The “shoe bomber” had failed to kill, but the domestic security response shifted in such a way as to chip away at the dignity of passengers, who gladly saw fit to surrender their shoes.  This may be a miniscule point, as to temporarily suspend one’s possession of foot gear in the interest of defending against a would-be bomber seems to be common sense.  Still, when a person is dressed in a fine suit or dress, or even just a pair of shorts there is a quality of completeness in wearing a nice pair of high heels, shoes, or sneakers.  To disrupt someone’s image of completeness is to have at least a minimal effect on one’s sense of decorum.

A few years later, an attempt to use liquid explosives in a similar manner was detected in advance of its intended application as a means of terror.[4]  Subsequently, the policy regarding the possession of liquids on planes took effect.  No one was further allowed to have a water bottle, travel shampoo, or any other such liquid bearing an excess of 3.4 liquid ounces in weight.  One could no longer possess carry-on items that would sustain them in the somewhat likely event that their checked luggage was lost or delayed at their destination.  The exception, however, was that one could purchase these items (at a premium) in the terminal, following check-in and prior to boarding.  This seems like a moot point.  Perhaps it is.  Thinking about what transpired, however, reveals a truth to consider.  Using a common device to plan a violent event caused a nonviolent reaction to defend against similar events, which restricted the simplest of freedoms for the entire plane-traveling public.  Violence didn’t kill, but its prospect sure did have an impact.

Three years later, an individual had attempted to ignite an underwear bomb on an airplane.[5]  The security response this time was to require that passengers either expose their bodies to an X-ray scanner or be subjected to a personal search their body.  (A “search” should not be confused with a mere pat-frisk that law enforcement is entitled to, under conditions arising from a demonstrable concern for safety.)  Now, not only one’s toes would be exposed to scrutiny, but one’s entire body would become a spectacle for the employees of the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA).  One would not hesitate to disrobe for their doctor, but TSA employees are not of such a caliber of professionalism as to believe that one’s dignity is safely guarded in such company.

In sum, actual violence in the air travel realm followed by a series of attempts at violence in the same domain yielded a policy decision, which irrevocably affected society.  In such an atmosphere, no politician wanting to get re-elected could have opened themselves up to the criticism of being soft on security.  So began the gradual process of transforming the American air travel experience into something similar to light incarceration for the possibility that one might commit a crime.  Arguably, there is some sense behind meeting a threat with a means to prevent or deter it.  Few viable and politically acceptable alternatives would guarantee safe travel, a sense of security and the notion of a liberating ability to fly around the country or the world.  Still, American air travel has become an invasive experience that deviates from the pre-9/11 expectations of liberty enshrined in the Constitution.

It could be said that mass violence (or a threat thereof) served as a catalyst in that it facilitated reactions to it that had a ratcheting effect.  That is, in the face of potential violence Americans have ceded liberty for security to such a degree as to alter reasonable expectations of privacy.  Beyond privacy, however, a Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure has now been so watered down that the unreasonable became reasonable.[6]  So the assertion, made earlier, that terrorism changed the American way of life should be somewhat modified to reflect that a reaction to the prospect of terror acts have changed some aspect of American life.

Episodes of Violence in American Society

On can hardly turn on the news and not hear about some form of violent crime taking place in America.  The best-selling video games simulate the most violent conduct.  Whether games of war, or of killing zombies, blood and violence are a staple feature of profit generation in the gaming sector of the economy.  The movie industry does not get a pass either.  It is so teeming with scenes of persistent violence that one wonders what could replace the genre and turn a profit.  Look no further than a series of movies called “Saw.”  There have been no less than seven separate movies in this sequence, all of which center on the theme of human torture and the most painful death imaginable.[7]  Whether such concepts enter the mind and direct a person to commit horrendous acts of violence against their fellow humans is difficult to know.  Still, it is worth recalling a few recent events that likely linger in the American collective conscience.

On 20 July 2012, a suspect walked into a movie theater during the premier of a new Batman movie and shot seventy innocent people at random.[8]    The crime was not simply a mass shooting, but was planned to be as horrifying as possible for the intended victims.  The suspect brought with him a small arsenal of firearms, along with tear gas canisters, and entered to begin his killing spree at the precise moment a violent shooting scene was to initiate in the movie.  It was an act, which required precision timing.

What is significant here is the juxtaposition of reality with fiction and the way in which the two merged in a moment of horror.[9]  A simple recollection of the conditions that accompanied the event highlights this phenomenon.  People of varying ages came to be entertained by some degree of violence on the screen.  When the suspect entered the theater, he was dressed in costume and allegedly began tossing tear gas into the audience.  From eyewitness accounts, it was clear that they had believed the suspect was merely an enthusiast or perhaps a staff member attempting to make the experience more realistic.

The speed at which the range of emotions had to have changed stuns the imagination.  In order to illustrate this better it is useful to picture the mundane quality of going to see a movie alongside the premeditation and actualization of a murderous plot.  Likely, each moviegoer experienced a degree of elation in thinking about going to see this movie.  Simultaneously, the suspect may have also felt some joy in imagining the movie-going experience.  The audience members made plans to go with friends or loved ones to experience together the pleasure of being taken on an imaginary journey.  The shooter, likely planned a journey while putting the finishing touches on his booby-trapped house (meant to kill or maim responding police who would have identified him afterward) and making sure that his hair was dyed to match the “Joker” character in the movie.

As the crowd entered the movie theater, it is quite possible that all the cares of the real world were being left behind as they filed into their seats, or as the shooter would view it, their intended final resting places.  As the movie began, each viewer was lulled into a sense of fantasy and each emotion experienced was assigned to this fictitious world.  As the suspect made ready his weapons and ammunition the world he was creating was nothing short of real.  As the probable crescendo built to a point where the movie would begin its most violent scene, the suspect appeared before the crowd.  At that moment, each innocent person did not know they were victims.  Every available sign would lead them to believe for a moment that their experience with fiction on the screen was being enhanced by the presence of a person dressed to match the scene.

For the suspect, however, it seems that his pleasure in knowing he would unleash unwelcome violence upon the most unsuspecting victims was coursing through his veins until the moment when he pulled the trigger.  To imagine he was repulsed by the idea would be contrary to the alleged facts.  At that moment, a series of contrasts had to have occurred.  The moviegoers became victims.  The man with the potential power to take lives was no longer just a man with plans; he became an engine of death and injury.  The sudden change from joy to fear and a mission to survive this most real of events is nearly unimaginable for anyone who has not experienced such an encounter.  All the while, the shooter’s sense of joy is exploding exponentially.  He is taking the utmost pleasure in the pain that he has created for others.  He has done what few people are able to do; he has instantaneously pulled seated persons from a world of fiction into the world of reality.  He had no competition in this endeavor.  He was more powerful than the movie, as now he had their full attention.  He was capable of stealing lives without opposition.

As laughing, thinking, breathing humans turned into lifeless heaps of flesh something else was happening.[10]  For those who expired immediately, death was the furthest prospect from their mind.  It was to occur on the screen, not in front of it; certainly not for them.  That space where the reality of the death merchant met with the lives of those who would take their last breaths is a difficult one to fathom.  One cannot quite imagine such a moment for one’s own self; indeed, it is repulsive even to attempt this exercise.   Whether the suspect was psychotic is not significant.  He planned and orchestrated an event that sought to deliver maximum pain and suffering in an intimate way.  He scheduled a customized death and anguish for others by interrupting what was to be others’ pleasure, supplanting it with his own in seeing their happiness disappear before his eyes.

Another astounding act of naked violence upon the innocent occurred late in 2012, when a clearly disturbed young man first killed his own mother, arguably severing the remaining ties he had to human decency, stole her firearms and proceeded to act out his violent fantasy.  By force of arms, he entered an elementary school in Sandy Hook Connecticut and slaughtered twenty children and six adults (who got in the way of his butchery of children), followed by his own suicide.[11]  Such a brazen misanthropic deed is remarkable not simply for the level of carnage, but the target set: children of the youngest possible school age, in the safest place they knew outside of their home.  The murderer’s victim selection could perhaps only have been worse had he assaulted a neonatal care ward in a hospital.  Then again, the infants would not have had six years’ time to develop a sense of the human spirit and an appreciation of life’s joyfulness, as the elementary schoolchildren had.

In the same way that the alleged shooter in Colorado had sought to seek pleasure in the suffering of others, this case went a step further because of the defenseless nature of single-digit aged schoolchildren.   There was no means with which a scared little child could muster the strength to overpower a twenty-year-old man with several guns aimed at him/her and his/her classmates (and teachers).  This episode highlights the cruelty that humans are capable of, although it seems outdone by the slaughter of even more children in places such as Beslan, Russia.[12]

Nonetheless, the rationale behind presenting two cases of intimate violence involving an unfathomable logic serves a purpose.  That is, when violence of this nature is considered, ex post facto, one cannot help but imagine the counterfactual scenario in which the criminal act was stopped in its initial stage.  Perhaps one could envisage ways in which such disturbed individuals may have been prevented from becoming so detached from society that they sought to destroy its most precious constituents.   Assuming that the discovery of demonstrable antecedent behaviors leading up to such violence, or warning signs of psychological deviance would have a less violent act is conjecture.  One cannot be certain of it.

Imagine a different counterfactual in the case of the Colorado shooting, where a citizen bearing a concealed firearm had been seated close enough to the shooter to have had an opportunity to stop him.  That citizen would have been hailed as a hero, but why?  The reason is that the appropriate application of violence against one who intends lethal harm is acceptable.  One could argue that any number of individuals could have tackled the shooter and rendered him unable to continue on his path of murder.  This is true, but under such conditions, one can never be sure that others’ commitment to this purpose matches or exceeds their own.  All one can truly rely on in such a situation is one’s own instincts, training (if applicable) and ability to strike with enough controlled violence to render the assailant incapacitated.  There are times when reasoning with people is outside the range of possible alternatives, thus leaving only one option: good violence.[13]

The case in Connecticut is a bit harder to advance for different reasons, but it is not impossible.  The requisite countervailing violence that could have been carried out by a first-grader would likely have been unable to generate enough force to meet the objective of disarming the aggressor.  Teachers, principals, security personnel, sports coaches, and other adults, however, might have had a fighting chance.  From the journalistic account, it seems that teachers acted courageously[14] in attempting to shield their students, but where they did so they were killed themselves.  So, what sort of physical force could have been exerted to have shut down the homicidal operation?  The answer is to be found in technology, but also in human will.  The first is a case for arming some teachers and training their instincts for a level of preparedness that the average person doesn’t seem to possess.  The second is a function of the first, in that where an individual must decide to use force for good their hesitation may be overcome by a reliance on muscle memory, fine motor skills and a well-rehearsed plan.[15]

Violence for the Individual

The justice system is imperfect.  There are times when the application of force by one individual against another may serve several purposes, of which one is justice.  In the case of American Civil Law, the idea of compensatory and punitive damages exist for the sake of making the victim “whole” in the former and replacing potential unlawful acts of vengeance in the latter.  The Criminal Law also serves a similar purpose in that restitution may be sought and a sentence instituted following the conviction of a crime.  In either case, it is hoped that the prevention of similar criminal acts will rest on the memory of the criminal, thus deterring him/her from repeating the offense.  In the case of violent crime, however, this may be desired, but insufficient.

How can one seek to make another whole when a portion of their life was interrupted to such a degree as to cause them eternal pain?  How could it be that the victim (and their family members) could adequately say that a vicious assault[16] on their person could be compensated for?  Or, that a violent offender has received what they deserve, when the victim of their criminal pursuit may not have deserved the treatment they received?  How does grief subside and satisfaction that the convicted is punished come to replace it?  In either of the cases of mass murder highlighted above, can it be said that the death of the assailant would simply cancel the death of one victim?  How about two?  Twenty?  The truth is that there is no way to adequately deliver perfect justice and the same principle applies in the nuclear deterrence case as it would in many criminal cases: the option for prosecution, conviction and sentencing is not good, but it is the least bad one practical.

These are big questions and they cannot be fully resolved; at least not here.  Let us turn, however, to a smaller one.  Take the case of bullying for instance.  Of late, bullying is being dealt with more seriously in public schools as an issue leading up to many emotionally maladjusted children.  There is even a new category called “cyber-bullying” that has emerged as an issue for concern.[17]

Certainly, no one can reasonably advocate for children to commit a violent act against another.  However, irrespective of the regular intervention of adults over time on behalf of the bullied child there is no way to adequately stop a bully from initiating predatory behavior.  Bullying behavior works on the logic that one can intimidate another with relative impunity.  Further, the punishment awaiting a perpetrator is insufficient to deter the behavior.  Therefore, a victim (or victims) may be subjected to coercion (as minimal as passive violence) and physical force (as maximal as active violence) on numerous occasions.  The devastating effects this brings to child victims is likely be immeasurable.  It may even give rise to their own violent behavior elsewhere.

Even as adults are on the lookout for bullying behavior, the bully is aware that his/her purposes are better served when carried out in the most secretive way.  The best possible outcome in such a situation is for a victim to hope that an adult intervenes on their behalf, but at the cost of looking like a “wimp.”  When deterrence is not likely to produce peaceful results the child victim may feel compelled to act in their own defense.  Many would say that this simply advances a cycle of violence.  Maybe it does.  However, if one is able to fight back and change the aggressor’s calculus to account for this the next time, deterrence may actually obtain.

Therefore, it can be argued that a justifiable response to a bully is to strike him/her without warning.  The most useful approach is probably to yell defensive words and draw attention to oneself whether defensive violence is intended or not.  Nonetheless, anyone who has a child that has been bullied will likely agree that their offspring should not have to endure such repeated offenses against their physical self, much less their self-esteem and dignity.  The claim being made here is not so wild.  In fact, it seems to be the logic behind parents enrolling their children in martial arts classes; not to be an effective attacker, but an efficacious defender.


It is perhaps fanciful to suggest that violence can be undesirable and illegitimate.  Still, it cannot be ruled out as something entirely evil.  It’s probably more accurate to say that certain forms of violence are more acceptable than others.  Additionally, the ends matter in how and why the means are applied.  Insofar as the composition of one’s character to properly apply the necessary amount and type of violence (and no more than this) to counter a more sinister brand, one of the better illustrations of this concept is found in the analogy of “sheep, wolves and sheepdogs.”[18]

There are those, perhaps the majority of people, who go through life meaning no harm to anyone and expecting none will be done to them.  That isn’t a good or bad thing, it just is.  They are the sheep.  There are some who are always looking for the opportunity to gain at the expense of others with or without violence, but sometimes the gain cannot be understood (perhaps the psychic utility that attends harming others- as in the cases outlined above).  These folks are wolves.  The sheepdogs, however, are the police officers and soldiers who train for the moment when harm presents itself.[19]  They are prepared to form a protective barrier between what the sheep are unable to defend against and what the wolves, if left unfettered, could accomplish.  They are not always liked and are seldom understood.  Still, sheepdogs continue to prepare themselves for the worst as they hope for the best.

Rightfully, decent people eschew violence.  The essence of this paper is to suggest that although wishful thinkers desire to see violence wither from the human experience it does not.  Forms of violence can fall anywhere along a continuum from the least physically injurious to the most, but the type of violence that tends to go overlooked is that other sort: the good violence.  That which serves as a bulwark against harm and annihilation is honorable.  That which short-circuits the process is even more so.

[1] Apparently, this commonly cited phrase is attributed to both George Orwell and Winston Churchill.  There is great debate about its origin, which one may read about at

[2] I say, “unwelcome” as it falls outside the welcome nature of a duel, such as a fistfight, in which each participant is assuming the risk of violence against themselves, even if they intend to win.

[3] The indictment is available online at:

[4] See, “Plot to Bomb U.S.-Bound Jets is Foiled,” The Washington Post, 11 August, 2006, viewable online at:

[5] The indictment is available online, courtesy of CBS News at:

[6] In a personal anecdote, I recall an incident while traveling a few years ago from San Diego to New York.  At the time, I was a police officer and so was my travel companion.  Under the Lautenberg Amendment, it is lawful for police officers to travel by air domestically while in possession of a firearm.  On this particular journey, neither of us had elected to carry our firearms.  Before heading to the airport, my companion had purchased two small bottles of locally made hot sauce to bring home as a gift.  As they had exceeded the 3.4 oz. weight, we were informed by the TSA agent that we’d have to leave them behind.  As our bags were already checked-in, we asked if we could remain in possession of them, as we produced our law enforcement credentials (and I produced my active Army Reserve identification).   The agent denied our request.  We requested that a supervisor respond to the scene, as I informed the agent that it was not reasonable to demand that I, who can carry a loaded gun on the plane, leave hot sauce bottles in the garbage by the metal detectors.  His tone then changed to one of suspicion and he inquired, “Sir, are you saying you have a gun?”  That’s when I said of course not, but the reasonableness of the request is not in accordance with my (extended) rights as a member of the law enforcement community.  The sauce was lost and so was the cause of convincing him of the possibility of a reasonable exception to a ridiculous rule.

[7] From 2004 to 2010 there were seven movies made, the last of which was entitled, Saw3D:

[8] See “12 Shot dead, 58 wounded in Aurora movie theater during Batman premier,”, 21 July 2012.  The story is accessible online at

[9] I accept, in small part, the basis for defining horror as Talal Asad does in On Suicide Bombing, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007); specifically, chapter 3 deals with this topic.  My own sense of horror is that I think it has to do with an inability to assign one’s own sense of rationale for an act that immediately clashes with the ordinary.  It has to be a temporary state, which declines over time and yields to some other state.  So it isn’t only the “total loss of practical and mental control” (78), but more importantly the idea that a sudden shift in normalcy has occurred and immediate sense cannot be made, much less an answer offered for why it occurred.  People seek to explain it afterward and that is probably why horror gets replaced with a descriptive narrative and an assignment of blame and rationale for the event having taken place.   However, in explaining his thoughts further, he taps into what I tend to believe embodies the key aspect of horror, “a sudden disruption of the patterns of everyday life.” (90)


[10] This point is not missed by Simone Veil, in “The Iliad, or The Poem of Force,” Chicago Review, 18:2 (1965): 5- 30.  What stands out is the implication that one is turned into a “thing” (6-8).  This is easily relatable if one has ever been in the presence of a dead body.  It could be an animal of any sort, but it is more meaningful to relate this to a dead human being.  For instance, within law enforcement circles one encounters death regularly, whether by natural means, suicide, accidents (especially the more gruesome vehicular types), or murder.  When referenced, the decedent is usually referred to as “the body.”  They are not called a “dead person,” although they may be referred to as the “recently deceased” following the autopsy.  The language is a reflection of the distance placed between the living and the dead.  This sits strangely with one who may have known the person.  For instance, arriving on the scene of a teenage suicide the mother is there speaking of her dead son, Joe.  To her, Joe was a person with whom she had deep personal attachment.  She brought him into this world with his first breath.  She provided him with life-sustaining milk and comforted him when he cried.  Joe had thoughts, desires, fears, aspirations.  Joe smiled at, talked with and hugged his mother.  Now he lay in the next room a cold corpse.  When he is referred to as Joseph by his mommy, the first responder is reminded of the fact that he was just like the rest of us.  When his mother hears Joe referred to as “the body,” she must feel that he is something more than that.

[11] “Children Were All Shot Multiple Times With a Semiautomatic, Officials Say,” The New York Times, 15 December 2012;

[12] For a detailed timeline of the event, see “Timeline: The Beslan School Seige,” The Guardian, 6 September 2004;

[13] I was working the night of a shooting, in which my friend and co-worker had no alternative but to use deadly physical force stop a man from killing others.  He was later cleared by a Grand Jury and deemed to be acting in accordance with the law.  He subsequently received the “Deputy of the Year” award for all of New York State in 2010.  The story appeared in The Times Herald Record on 28 February 2009 and can be accessed online at

[14] By courage, I mean the ability to channel fear in such a way as to serve the goal of overcoming one’s adversary.

[15] See an earlier piece I wrote, “Policy Proposal to Arm the Teachers,” on Word Press at

[16] E.g., rape, molestation, dismemberment, disfigurement, or any assault with the intent to cause serious physical injury or death.

[17] See for more on this topic.  They cite that 12 out of 15 school shootings were perpetrated by people who had felt bullied.

[18] See Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman (retired), “Preface: Hunting Wolves,” Global Crime, Vol. 7, No. 3-4 (August- November 2006): 291- 298.

[19] In one final personal anecdote, I nearly killed a 19 year old young man one day.  I was less than a second from firing at him from point-blank range.  Had I done so, I would likely have been justified.  Only one who knows what is involved in such moments could probably relate.  In short, I was assigned (as a police officer) to a school.  My partner told me that a student was in the principal’s office for threatening to kill him and was about to be removed from the school grounds.  We were to make sure that this took place smoothly and without incident.  The only information we had at the time was that the young man had beaten up his father the night prior, had engaged in a fistfight with police a few weeks prior and was known to carry “torture devices” in his backpack.  Upon escorting the student out of the building, with teachers, counselors, security personnel and a few police officers present the student began to become visibly agitated and refused to leave.  He then proceeded very loudly to make wild statements about how much he loved 9/11 and how much he wanted to kill people.  None of that mattered to us trained officers dealing with emotionally disturbed persons.  However, he then yelled (in a way that could not be conveyed on paper) that he had “six pounds of explosives strapped to my chest and I’m going to kill everybody!”  At that time he began to open his jacket and wires were immediately seen sticking out.  I had been back from Iraq for a couple of months and the instinct and ability to kill was never far from my consciousness.  What also accompanies such a skill set for taking life is the concomitant sense to assess and re-assess the situation.  In part, I did not fire because the glass walls of the school were at his back.  The other reason was because I recognized that even though he had a crazed look in his eyes and seemed to have the wherewithal to bring a bomb to school the wires that I saw were similar to what one may have on an I-Pod.  It turned out to be such an innocuous  musical playing system.  I did not fire.  From the moment he yelled his threat to the moment I decided not to fire less than a half second probably passed.  Not everyone is capable of knowing what they would do under such circumstances and as a society, we do not want everyone to be in a position to make such decisions.  Killing is not for everyone and the ability to place oneself in such shoes is unlikely until and unless one is trained in that regard and placed in such a situation.  The truth of the lethal force concept that many police officers stand by remains: I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six (even if that time I didn’t have to follow the mantra to its logical conclusion).