Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Revenge, Forever Without End

Watching the news provides daily reminders of the price of revenge. It is a bill that is never paid.

The murder of 145 children and teachers at a Pakistani school, justified by Taliban perpetrators as retaliation for military action against villages they control, is just the latest grisly example of vengeance with no satisfaction. There will always be another act to avenge.

VengefulThe cycle of violence escalates with more devastating weapons, more brazen attacks, more horrific killings.

There are beheadings. There are remote-control drone attacks. Each is defended as a fair response to the other.

Offenses can be historical, territorial, racial, religious or personal. The source has little to do with the scourge of revenge.

The specter of revenge turns tranquil communities into spewing pots. Neighbors rise up against neighbors, even though they may have grown up together, shared meals and babysat each other’s children. Their differences drown out their shared experience.

If revenge led to a final outcome, maybe you could argue it would be cathartic, purging a community’s bloodstream of hatred. However, the DNA of revenge is to reproduce itself in ever amplified waves of terror. Hatred isn’t a component of love. Hatred is the enemy of forgiveness.

People grieve over the results of revenge. But they don’t demand its end. More often, they condone “seeing justice done” and “making those responsible pay.” When their attention shifts elsewhere, those seeking justice often resort to violent revenge. It may be legal and defensible, but it isn’t designed to stop revenge in its tracks, to chart a new course.

When Americans saw those planes plunge into the Twin Towers, our blood boiled. We felt violated. We wanted those responsible tracked down and held accountable. Our understandable anger led to broad and secret government spying, the capture and torture of terrorist suspects and, ultimately, to two wars in the Middle East.

Now, we watch as September 11, our latter day of infamy, is marked by new terrorist acts – teenagers rigged with suicide bombs, subway explosions, buried roadside bombs.

As the West attacks our shared terrorist opponents, new tactics emerge. Two boys in Boston set bombs at the Boston Marathon finish line. A self-appointed cleric takes 17 people hostage and kills two in Sydney. We are all left with sense of helpless fear. We worry about traveling overseas or even going to the movies. Our lives are shaped by the shadows of revenge.

We dabble in interfaith conversations and engage in prayer vigils. But we stop short of entertaining approaches of a different stripe.

mandelaquote2We celebrate Nelson Mandela who ushered apartheid out of the door in South Africa with a kind embrace of those who repudiated it, instead of a kick in the groin. Yet we fail to see any analogy to our situation. Revenge-fueled terror is our overlord, but we shrink from calling it into question, let alone repudiating it.

In Response to Senate release of the so-called Torture Report, Former Vice President Dick Cheney justified what was done because of the villainous murders of 3,000 people in the Twin Towers. Most people, if they would admit it, harbored feelings of seeking revenge for that grave wrong. But what our revenge has reaped in more revenge, with the prospect of continuing forever without end.

The question may be whether we have the courage to cast aside a policy of revenge and seek a different path to reconciliation.

It would be a formidable challenge, and undoubtedly a dangerous one, to call a truce on violence. But you have to ask whether the dangers we face now are any less terrifying.




One comment on “Revenge, Forever Without End

  1. Annie Stratton
    December 18, 2014

    As you no doubt know, this has a long history. For an illuminating account of an example that shaped how American national identity has been shaped from the beginning by a sense of exceptionalism that justified revenge and horrific acts, read Jill LePore’s brilliant book “the Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of America’s Identity”. Nothing much has changed.

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