First Strike


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America, Terrorism, and Moral Tradition

Mark Totten

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Can the use of force first against a less-than-imminent threat be both morally acceptable and consistent with American values? In this timely book Mark Totten offers the first in-depth, historical examination of the use of preemptive and preventive force through the lens of the just war tradition.

Although critical of the American incursion into Iraq as a so-called “preemptive war,” Totten argues that the new terrorist threat nonetheless demands careful consideration of when the first use of force is legitimate. The moral tradition, he concludes, provides a principled way forward that reconciles American values and the demands of security.

Mark Totten is assistant professor of law, Michigan State University College of Law. He lives in Kalamazoo, MI.

"Totten's book carefully examines the contours of thinking about preemption and prevention in international law, political philosophy, and just war tradition, driving toward adapting the existing standards to confront present-day threats. In breadth and depth this study is unmatched, providing a benchmark for contemporary thinking about when it is justified to strike the first blow in a conflict."—James Turner Johnson, author of Morality and Contemporary Warfare

"Mark Totten does two things in this book: first, he provides a wonderfully learned account of the argument about pre-emption and prevention in just war theory. And then he makes a strong argument of his own for revising the standard doctrine. Theorists should pay attention; statesmen and generals, too."—Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study

"Mark Totten addresses one of the most pressing questions of the day: When, if ever, can America's moral tradition support striking first against suspected terrorists or other enemies who are not on the verge of attacking this country? First Strike is a brilliant and engaging book full of deep insights into U.S. history, the just war tradition and its favorable reception in the United States, and recent national security challenges."—John E. Noyes, Roger J. Traynor Professor of Law, California Western School of Law

"First Strike is a significant contribution to the just war tradition.  In providing a narrow yet principled defense of preventive force, Totten brings much needed moral clarity and historical perspective to debates about terrorism and 'American values.'  His elegant reading of classical texts and concrete cases is a major achievement that will appeal to scholars and general readers interested in questions about law, morality, and security."—Eric Gregory, author of Politics and the Order of Love: An Augustinian Ethic of Democratic Citizenship
ISBN: 9780300124484
Publication Date: September 21, 2010
224 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4