When I was in graduate school, I came across the below paragraph, a rough attempt at painting the Arab tribal code in the time before the dawn of Islam:
Bravery in battle, patience in misfortune, persistence in revenge, protection of the weak, defiance toward the strong, generosity to the poor, hospitality to the visitor, loyalty to tribe, fidelity in keeping promises.
I always found it interesting that “persistence in revenge” was in there. The idea of revenge as a virtue is foreign to modern forms of law and behavior control. Or rather, we prefer the term justice. Revenge is personal, emotional. You wrong me, I’m going to wrong you, to even the score. Justice, on the other hand, is something legal. It’s more clinical, and often not as satisfying. Life in prison for a mass murder doesn’t always seem to square things out. Neither does the death penalty, for that matter.
Still, there is something very human about wanting to seek revenge. Look at our media: Kill Bill, Django, Game of Thrones. Revenge courses through our stories as one of the chief drivers of action. Zero Dark Thirty, a movie about the real-life hunt for Osama bin Laden, is essentially a revenge thriller.
With the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, there are renewed calls for “punitive” strikes on ISIS. That is, I suppose, strikes that we may not have carried out previously (why?) but now conduct to “teach them a lesson” or something.
While I think revenge has a place in the human psyche – it is something we feel, after all – summoning it as a tool of the state seems misguided, childish, and dumb, a device used to appeal to the masses who want us to “do something.”
If our goal is to destroy ISIS, then we should seek to do that, however the policymakers decide is best.
But revenge should not be a part of the mission statement.