"...The greater philosophical question is not whether to strike or not, but at which point has the attack begun? It can be argued that defusing the attack early not only gives the defender greater options, it also puts limits on the attacker, nullifies their intent and limits the escalation of violence"
I like this. I get the impression the aversion to striking first comes from what O Sensei said about people attacking him (and the universe) being defeated already. I personally try to adhere to the notion that I do not want to strike first because once I do, it is most definitely "on," and de-escalation becomes a lot harder. However, this doesn't mean I'm unwilling to "sucker punch" someone I am certain will attack me. The trick there, of course, is being able to recognize the intent in others.
I realize I'm no expert, but my mindset goes like this: I apply my intent, extend my ki to connect with the potential attacker; if my connection is sufficient, I will simply follow the flow, which may just lead me to extend through the centerline into that person. My biggest dilemma has to do with the lack of awareness for ma'ai on the part of the potential attacker. Many people have a different idea of how ok it is to get in someone's face, and don't realize that for some, it is an invitation to get hit. The problem with simply hitting anyone who seems aggressive is that once things have reset, they may decide they were unfairly attacked. Some people aren't really aware of where their emotions are leading them and may decide they were just going to talk until you suddenly hit them (some people can rationalize anything, after all), even if their lower brain functions were
primed to attack.
So where that leaves my mind is that since everything must be taken on a case by case basis, I prefer to think of myself not as having a philosophy of striking first, but of having the initiative. It seems like it would keep my options more open in the long run.
"sic pacem, para bellum" as simplistic in the extreme, if not simply flat-out wrong.
I agree. I've known too many "tough guys" to believe this. Reading The Adventures of King Arthur, too, seems to reinforce this idea since so many knights go into the fight out of notions of manliness only to find they just slew their brother or some similar tragedy. They're so prepared to do battle that it takes little to tip it in that direction. It seems that when the hammer is in hand, you see every nail as threatening to stick up.