Defense Defended

David Sutton's review [June] of my book The Save-Your-Life Defense Handbook was a nifty hatchet job,…but his strident tone brings into question his judgment. Certainly his criticisms are riddled with flaws, and along with the bassackwards logic he employs, the reader would be wise to question his expertise as well. There are experts and there are experts, and their choice of combat techniques often separates the windy theorist from the blooded fighter. I wouldn't venture an opinion either way regarding David Sutton. However, I will respond to his criticisms, and that in itself should prove instructive.

1. Hand-to-Hand Combat. Anyone who doubts that a heel-of-the-palm blow delivered to the nose will kill—and kill very effectively—quite obviously hasn't used that blow in a serious encounter. Anyone who has been engaged in actual hand-to-hand combat—where the object is to neutralize your opponent quickly—knows that surprise, along with a blow to the larynx or nose, brings the action to a hasty conclusion. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply a damn fool, and a sitting duck in a real fight. In brief, these are the types of tactics I recommended in the Handbook, and anyone—even a macho stud—will hit the deck with his lights out whenever he's caught by one of these blows.

2. Gunfighting. Something over 90 percent of all police-criminal gunfights occur at a range of 7 yards or less. In recent years, following the advice of pistolero theorists, law enforcement agencies began training their officers to always bring the weapon to eye level, regardless of the range. It works great on a combat course—because paper targets don't fire back—but in practice, it got a great many cops killed. The reason slowly became obvious: while the cop was raising his weapon to eye level, the crook blasted away using instinctive aim point shooting. And the conclusion was another dead cop. As a result, many police departments have now returned to the old FBI method…at 7 yards or less the officer is trained to fire with the weapon below eye level.…

3. Knife Fighting. The techniques Sutton refers to as unworkable were learned—through personal encounters—from American Indians and Mexicans. These people rely on tactics that have been tested and proved deadly by countless generations of knife fighters. Unlike knife fighting theorists, who borrow heavily from the sport of fencing, their techniques are based on actual experience with cold steel. While serving in the army, I met any number of "knife fighters" who had been trained according to the theorists' doctrine. And like the theorists, few of these men had ever been involved in a cut-or-get-cut knife fight. Their experience was limited to practice sessions, with rubber knives. All of which makes for a jolly grand game and no one the worse for wear. With real knives, however, the overall style taught by theorists will merely get you killed—very fast!…

Finally, I would admonish Sutton to read the text of the Handbook rather than simply look at the photos. If he had, he would have found—on virtually every page—the caution to perfect any given tactic before attempting it on the street. I would assume, based on his remarks, that Sutton feels himself incapable of mastering the Indian/Mexican style. That's a real problem, but he shouldn't impose his own limitations on the general public. There are countless numbers of people capable of mastering the techniques advocated, and they should be exposed to every known school of knife fighting. In fact, I urged readers of the Handbook to seek out the works of other knife fighters and determine for themselves which style better suits the individual. Sutton would be wise to curb his intolerance and follow the example.

Of course, David Sutton's greatest disservice to the reader is that he completely missed the point of The Save-Your-Life Defense Handbook. It was not meant to be the last word on self defense. It offers instead a viewpoint—a survivor's philosophy—and an examination of combat tactics I learned the hard way. It is by no means the definitive work, nor will it teach you all there is to learn in ten easy lessons.…Sutton contends The Save-Your-Life Defense Handbook isn't worth the price of admission. I believe it might very well save your life in the event of a violent encounter. While there are no guarantees on the streets of America, the least it will do is increase your odds. And perhaps that's enough considering the stakes.

Matt Braun
Francestown, NH

Mr. Sutton replies: I shall reply as mildly as is possible, while covering the ground.

I did not intend to be "strident" or "shrill." I intended to deliver a harsh, negative evaluation of what I felt was a dangerous book for beginners, inadequate in places, and overly florid in others. My opinion stands.

I am not a "pistolero," and I have been most thoroughly blooded. My experience is largely combat experience—battleground experience, as Mr. Braun puts it—with the Marine Corps in Vietnam.

I first learned to survive knife fights on the back streets of Goleta and the docks of Santa Monica and San Pedro, defending myself from Mexican-Americans of the "Pachuco" gangs. Many of them used a style remarkably similar to Mr. Braun's, though I would hesitate to attach a racial label to the style. I have encountered it from Anglo and Filipino punks since.

Many of the Pachucos were very poor knife fighters, though some of them were very good with honed baling hooks. I ran from them as often as I fought them. Macho I am not. I am alive.

I have never been cut in a knife fight, largely because I use a tight, low-braced defensive posture which makes me a poor target and covers my vulnerable zones. Beyond that, I use purely personal attack forms which I would never advocate for a beginner, and I use almost anything else in preference to a knife.

I did not say that a heel-palm strike to the nose will not (sometimes) kill. I said that it will not put the nose bones into the brain. And the photo used shows a delivery that would likely result in a trapped arm. In fact, that heel-palm strike against the solar plexus can be countered by leaning back or flinching all of four inches, whereupon you would be very vulnerable to one of the simplest holds of Jiu Jitsu. I don't claim Mr. Braun doesn't know how to deliver those blows himself; I simply point out that a beginner working from his photos would probably get hurt.

As to handguns, I am convinced that a beginner is best off starting with aimed fire, and that "instinct" shooting from any position is not a beginner's technique at more than six feet. It requires literally thousands of rounds of practice. I practice it up to about 25 feet, at eye level, because I have found that a change in grips and balance completely destroys any advances I may have made in "instinct" handgun use. When the weapon is in my visual field, I can adapt to new weapons with small loss of accuracy. This is a poorly labeled technique, because "instinct" shooting is a trained response of the highest order.

I use the "instinct" technique from 6 to 25 feet because sighting, unlike full-arm extension and elevation to eye level, does slow me down.

I have no doubt that Mr. Braun's philosophy of survival and combat is good for him. I do think that his book is a very poor one for beginners. My evaluation is of his book, not of him as a person or as a warrior. While I do not intend to touch his honor, honesty compels me to stand by my review.

Crawl, Walk, Then Run…

Bill Birmingham's criticism [Brickbats, June] of the first-round of use of Colorado's Sunset Law was overly harsh. It's true that it wasn't cost effective. However, I don't feel that this invalidates the concept of a Sunset Law. It just means that, this time, the legislature abolished a bunch of nickel-and-dime agencies and passed up the option of nixing some considerably more expensive ones. That option will continue to exist as long as Sunset is on the books. The Sunset Law is a very partial reform. But at least it makes possible the elimination of every regulatory agency in Colorado.

Patrick L. Lilly
Colorado Springs, CO

Soft on Taxation?

In their article "How to Draw the Line on Taxes" [June] William Rickenbacker and Lewis Uhler equated tax rebellion with violent revolution. However, I see no such equality. Also, I see no reason why people have a "duty" to continue to let themselves be robbed until they have managed to convince the majority of the voters to demand a tax-limiting amendment. Furthermore, such an amendment would merely limit (and a high limit it would probably be) the amount which the State can steal from us.

Since the government prosecutes a relatively small percentage of tax rebels, an insurance program could be set up among tax rebels which would indemnify those unfortunate tax rebels who are convicted for any financial losses they suffer because of their conviction, and give some compensation for any time they might spend in prison. This would greatly reduce the risk individual tax rebels would incur and would thereby accelerate the movement.…

One other point: Messrs. Rickenbacker and Uhler insist that legislators don't really want to take any more of our money but are induced to do so by the "basic flaw." Anyone who saw the hysterics of the politicians in California at the prospect of "Proposition 13" passing can see how wrong they are. The legislators have also done their best to make the taxes that they levy as invisible as possible, thus producing the appearance of cheap programs that Messrs. Rickenbacker and Uhler show is part of the "basic flaw."

Brian Jedrick
Nutley, NJ

ALF Chided

It would take an article of great length to respond to all the errors, cheap shots, and faulty logic contained in the letter from the officers of the Association of Libertarian Feminists [July] regarding the alleged "poor judgement and insulting insensitivity shown by the editors of REASON" for publishing three articles on the morality of abortion—all of which were authored, to their distress, by men.

Suffice it to say that I am a feminist. I am also, to my chagrin, a member of ALF. I am appalled and embarrassed to be bracketed with individuals who demonstrate so little perception and understanding of the authentic nature of feminism.

If feminism is anything, surely it is the radical assertion that all human beings be treated and judged on their individual merits and abilities—and certainly not on the basis of their sexual gender. One can only regret that the officers of ALF, who presume to speak for an individualist/feminist entity, so poorly understand the premises on which their organization is founded.…

Space does not permit an extensive analysis here of abortion, but it should be noted that socially the issue is not abortion. By far the greatest number of all abortions occurs naturally and spontaneously as nature's way of rejecting potentially defective offspring. Miscarriages and stillbirths are not the subject of ethical debate.

What is at issue is the social-political question of whether individuals shall be permitted to exercise individual judgment and act according to their beliefs or whether they shall be tyrannized into conducting themselves according to the moral convictions of others. Surely this is an issue of critical interest and relevance to all human beings—regardless of their sexual gender, and an issue fundamentally far beyond the specifics of abortion.

For the officers of ALF to suggest that only women can authoritatively and/or ethically comment on the morality of abortion is to propose the principle that only participants to an experience are qualified to propose ethical standards. Murderers would relish this innovative approach, I am quite sure.

…I would suggest that the editors and authors are to be commended for their gender "blindness" and for not kowtowing to the trendy egalitarian pressures so prevalent in editorial circles. This is, I believe, in harmony with the major chord of feminism: we are struggling, not to be equal, but to be free.

Caroline Willis-White
Long Beach, CA

N-Bomb Alternatives

I pick up the June REASON and what do I see but a letter from one Tony Haenni, manfully distorting my comments on the neutron bomb? My fans will of course remember how, in my January 1978 column, I reported the views of Mr. Alton Frye, "a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations," that the N-bomb is 1) expensive, and 2) given to inflicting collateral damage on non-combatants (worse than "the free-fire zones of Vietnam," as he put it). I further suggested that since "pro-NATO libertarians" (of which I am not one) presumably oppose killing noncombatants they should opt for "precision guided conventional munitions" for their tank-killing chores. Haenni somehow interprets this as "the incredible assertion that conventional weapons wouldn't harm civilian lives or property,'" and adds "Where has Birmingham been?" Well, at the time I was over on page 14, denouncing the slaughter of Middle East civilians with conventional weapons. The operative words were "precision-guided," like the US TOW and Dragon anti-tank weapons. NATO already has superiority in these; they could add 100,000 more with what Carter was proposing to spend for N-bombs. Such matters are explained at length in Fred Kaplan's "Enhanced Radiation Weapons" (Scientific American, May 1978) and I will say no more about them. It is worth remarking that Defense Secretary Brown calls the N-bomb "useful but not essential" (James Burnham, National Review's military strategy columnist, concurs), and REASON contributors Earl Ravenal and Daniel Ellsberg flatly oppose it (see The Nation, May 27, 1978, for their comments).

Bill Birmingham
Santa Barbara, CA

Abortion Distortion

Regarding your writers' frequent use [April] of 1984 distortionist words in referring to a pregnant woman as "mother" and the fetus as "unborn child": In a letter to the editor of American Atheist Magazine, January '78, D. Garcia of New York City pointed out—"A pregnant woman is not a mother. To become a mother, she must give birth to a child first.…The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (p. 127) defines child as 'any person between birth and puberty.' It is preposterous and biologically impossible for a woman to carry in her womb a 'person between birth and puberty.'"

Harry M. Nelson
Anchorage, AL

The editor replies: This indeed seems to be an important distinction. One of our authors, however, did observe the distinction. In "The Morality of Non-Interference," Tibor Machan consistently spoke of would-be parents and human fetuses and human embryos—but not of mothers, fathers, and unborn children.

To Efron's Defense

I have just read the venomous and scurrilous attack [May] upon Miss Efron and her [February] Viewpoint column, and so I am hastening to say that here is one reader who thought her article to be superb in every respect—pithy and to the point; solidly grounded in fact and perfectly balanced between fact and opinion; fair, restrained but magisterial in the allotment of condemnation where condemnation was due; and written in sparkling English withal!

Arthur Shenfield
Berkshire, ENG

Bumper Cars

"Billion Dollar Bumpers" [March] prompts me to write about a personal experience. Last year, I needed to buy a station wagon that would hold 7 or 8 people. Most station wagons hold 5 or 6. I wanted to buy a small car for reasons of economy and safety. I have had two near-misses that would have been crashes if my car had been larger. Further I wanted to buy a foreign car for reasons of safety. It has been my experience they handle better and give added protection in case of hazardous situations.

I investigated all cars I could locate that would hold 7 or 8 people. I rejected all American-made models because mileage was poor (under 16 mpg) and because the handling just didn't compare with what I was used to. This left only two options: the Citroen and the Volvo. Volvo station wagons were running around $10,000 at that time, or roughly $4,000 more than some American models—more than many Americans can afford.

Citroens, I discovered, have several unique safety features, and are regarded by many people "in the know" as the safest car on the road. For example, the unique hydraulic system and related features cause very high stability—if a wheel leaves the road, it has no effect on steering at all! Likewise, Citroens have unbelievable traction under adverse road conditions and are totally unaffected by the LOSS of one wheel. Further, the braking system is the best I've seen for stopping the car on a dime.

I discovered Citroens are no longer imported because of the bumper standard, 215, and some lesser reasons. I fully understand why the manufacturers refused to redesign the bumper, because the engineering problems involved in doing so without destroying the other safety features border on the impossible.

Being more fortunate than most Americans I could afford to buy a Volvo, and I did. It has been a nice car to drive, don't get me wrong. But I can't help but wonder what I'm missing by not having had the option of buying the Citroen. And I can't help but feel a deep, burning anger at a government that prevented me from buying "the safest car on the road," all in the name of safety!

Pat Goltz
Tucson, AZ

Setting Records

Yours is the only magazine I have ever subscribed to for more than a year at a time. It is an excellent product and you deserve congratulations.

D.C. Jones
Los Angeles, CA