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"You've got an overdeveloped sense of vengeance."
--Count Rugen to Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Vengeance. It's all about getting even, to obtain satisfaction for a real or imagined act of wrongdoing.

When we're young, our range of experience is limited, so degrees of right and wrong are, well, childish. Mom or Dad being home even 10 minutes late can be a grave offense, punishable by being pouty and contrary for the rest of the evening. You hid my dolly, so I'll hide your teddy bear. As long as nobody loses an eye, it's all easily forgotten, though. When the smallest things are perceived to be horribly wrong, equally small acts can set things right again.

When we grow up, we've got more of everything, and more to lose, but also a better sense of proportion. Home late? We know how bad traffic is -- as long as you hadn't promised to be home by a specific time. You cheated on me, so I'll see you in divorce court. A small wrong still can be set right by a small act; we just know better what the difference between a small wrong and a big one is.

When large groups or whole nations are involved, it all gets bigger. The oil tankers are late? Hmm, our grain freighters seem to be held up. We caught a spy of yours, and by the way, we're staging a military operation three miles from our shared border next month -- don't worry, it's just a training exercise.

You blew up our buildings and killed thousands of civilians.

Vengeance is easy. Justice is tough. What my wife is having trouble wrapping her mind around (and to some extent, I'm having the same problem, and we're likely not the only ones) is how justice can truly be served in a situation like this. What sort of punishment truly fits a crime of this magnitude? The difference between revenge and justice, I think, is that justice is about making the wrongdoer realize why what they did is wrong, and having them make appropriate amends. How do we punish those who sincerely believe they have done no wrong? And how does a criminal of this sort make amends?

My wife asked me if she was crazy to think this way. I told her that the only crazy thing was that she had an underdeveloped sense of vengeance, and an overdeveloped sense of justice.

We've got Rangers and SEALs and Tomahawks and F/A-18s and A-10s and B-2s and the Screamin' Eagles and dozens of other tools of inflicting death and destruction, with varying degrees of precision. And we'll get even, no question about it.

But will the perpetrators truly get what they deserve?

Of course, it could be simpler still.

After all, you blew up their buildings and killed tens of thousands of their civilians. and continue to do so.

Nor was that the first instance, 'You' have been funding 'their' wholesale slaughter for decades. Why? Who knows. Maybe Oil. Maybe they say different prayers at night. Maybe you just don't like brown people.1

Whatever the perjorative rationalisations the fact remains that your goal is to maintain and expand your way of life. You will kill those (or even better pay others to kill those) who genuinely think and act differently and choose to fight back when their way of life is threatened.

When we talk about violence, often we are really talking about the breakdown in social order, which is in large the compromise of compatible values that allows us to function together as a community. When we decide that we've been wronged, we reject the values that have been expressed, even when often the act masks the very same values that we ourselves would express in that situation.

Perhaps we've overdeveloped the "enemy's" sense of vengeance?

1No, I'm not accusing the rather excellent previous author of racism. I'm making a point about greed, religious intolerance, and xenophobia. We accuse the terrorists of two of these and I wanted to demonstrate how insidious these tendencies are when we employ them in our thinking and how hard to extricate.

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