In the East, the idea was championed by Sun Tzu, the Chinese general born about 550 years before Christ and best remembered as the author of the traditional book of military strategy, “The Art of War.” In the West, the idea was championed by Niccolò Machiavelli, the Italian Renaissance diplomat born about 1,500 years after Christ and best remembered as the author of the traditional book of governing strategy, “The Prince.” American President George Washington often used a variation of the concept, as did Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong.
In essence, “the best defense is a good offense.” In politics, law, business, and even board games, a winning strategy is often based on the notion of drawing first blood. Before allowing a would-be opponent to consider her own moves, the aggressor makes hers. By striking first, one gains the advantage of framing the battleground, of reducing the position of the opponent to defend themselves, and by gaining the element of surprise. And once in power, one would be in constant pursuit of out-maneuvering those governed. Each anticipated move by adversaries, or one’s own citizens, should be anticipated and preemptively repressed. Suppressed by fear, most come to live in constant expectation of the unannounced hostility. But even more, those antagonists have defended themselves from fighting the battle on their own homeland. Stated another way, their own failures and biases are routinely not exposed, expressed or assessed.
The defensively offensive end up reducing vulnerability while the defensively defensive are pushed back against the wall. In an all-out war, maybe all is fair. But what if someone doesn’t intend to go to war? What if the aggressor is just an aggressor and not defending? Can we coexist with someone bent on a preemptive assault? Or do we have to strike them to survive ourselves?