top of page
  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

False Dilemma

On September 20, 2001, following the terror attacks of 9/11, George W. Bush addressed to a joint session of Congress and the world while stating:

Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States [U.S.] as a hostile regime.

Bush’s either-or, this-that declaration met the criteria of a fallacy—a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound argument. This sort of irrational belief is known as a false dilemma. According to one source:

The false dilemma fallacy involves presenting a limited number of options as if they were the only options available. This forces people to choose between two extremes, even though there is a spectrum of possibilities in between. The fallacy is misleading and prevents honest debate.

Also known as a false dichotomy, either-or rhetoric significantly limits options while serving as a divisive prescription, as was the case for Bush. One may ask, “What’s the harm in being presented with only two options?”

The staggering result of the Bush-initiated “war on terrorism” was the loss of “nearly 1 million lives and [it] cost $8 trillion,” per one source. Though there were other options than to have invaded and occupied countries for almost two decades, Bush’s false dilemma had a catastrophic effect.

False dilemmas are sometimes characterized by omissions of choices. For instance, instead of Bush claiming, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” a reasonable person could have suggested, “Or perhaps I don’t support war or terrorism, so other options are available.”

Noteworthy, Bush stacked a number of other fallacies upon one another when prescribing a false dilemma. As the war on terror continued, appeals to emotion were used by the U.S. Department of State, as an example (2002):

The story of Afghan women and children over the preceding quarter-century, and especially during the past five or six years, is one of extremes: from relative tranquility and emancipation to violence, privation, and oppression—and lately at least the first steps back again.

This sort of emotional appeal follows a Helen Lovejoy approach, as The Simpsons character famously stated, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” Meanwhile, men, women, and children were suffering from various causes here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Additionally, Bush used a straw man fallacy during his aforementioned speech by stating:

Americans are asking, “Why do they hate us?” They hate what we see right here in this chamber – a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

Bush’s distorted exaggeration of perceived opponents to the U.S. didn’t address actual concerns of people who carried out the attack. After all, other free and democratic nations would have been similarly attacked if Bush’s proposal was valid.

Recently and when speaking on the 2023 Israel-Hamas war, actor Noah Schnapp reportedly stated, “You either stand with Israel or you stand with terrorism. It shouldn’t be a difficult choice. Shame on you.”

Here, Schnapp uses a false dilemma that I’ve observed repeatedly being tossed around since Hamas attacked Israel. This divisive rhetoric excludes other options, such as people who are foremost concerned with the condition of their own nations, individuals who are pacifists, and other possibilities.

Also, Schnapp uses demandingness in his declaration, prescribing what shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to be a difficult choice, per his calculation. However, moralizing of this nature is subjective, because not everyone will agree with Schapp’s rigid prescriptions.

Moreover, Schnapp’s use of shame further serves as righteous castigation of those who reject his position. While I understand that tensions are high concerning the Israel-Hamas war, alienating and emotively-driven rhetoric of this sort is based in irrational belief.

Ultimately, false dilemmas aren’t entirely useful. In Bush’s case, this style of argumentation had devastating effects. To a substantially smaller degree, Schnapp’s position may result in self-disturbance when the actor encounters people who don’t share his views.

Therefore, I propose that instead of using a false dilemma, people should simply refrain from doing so.

(See what I did there?)

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


Hollings, D. (2023, October 14). Appeal to emotion. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, October 31). Demandingness. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, October 5). Description vs. prescription. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, September 8). Fair use. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, October 12). Get better. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, May 18). Irrational beliefs. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, September 19). Life coaching. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, October 2). Morals and ethics. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, November 1). Self-disturbance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, September 8). Shame attacking. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, October 7). Should, must, and ought. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, September 11). “Some people did something.” Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, October 16). Straw man. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, November 14). Touching a false dichotomy. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hussain, M. (2021, September 1). Over two decades, U.S.’s global war on terror has taken nearly 1 million lives and cost $8 trillion. The Intercept. Retrieved from

Nikolopoulou, K. (2023, May 30). False dilemma fallacy | Examples & definition. Scribbr. Retrieved from,possibilities%2C%20when%20more%20are%20available.

Simpson Wiki. (n.d.). Helen Lovejoy. Retrieved from

Snippets. (2013, December 30). The Simpsons - Helen Lovejoy - Think of the children [Video]. YouTube. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of State. (2002, July 12). 3. Situation of women and children in Afghanistan. Retrieved from

Vlessing, E. (2023, October 11). ‘Stranger Things’ star Noah Schnapp tells Instagram followers “Choose humanity over violence” amid Israel-Hamas war. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from

Wayhomestudio. (n.d.). Doubtful beautiful woman posing against the pink wall [Image]. Freepik. Retrieved from

White House, The. (2001, September 20). Address to a joint session of Congress and the American people. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). 2023 Israel-Hamas war. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). George W. Bush. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Noah Schnapp. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). The Simpsons. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). War on terrorism. Retrieved from

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page