Revenge as Tactical Purpose

not you sophie

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.

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Training and the spartan/sybarite dichotomy

“Part of me wants to be hard as nails, the other part of me wants to chiiiiiiiillllllllllllll.”

In the days and weeks leading up to my now delayed Ranger School class, every moment, meal, and quiet nothing took on monumental significance. Driving somewhere on post with a couple of buddies, we discussed the two axes of thought regarding any impending military event, in this case, Ranger School. The spartan in us wanted to do nothing but read the Ranger Handbook, drink water, and train. The sybarite in us wanted to do nothing but go out, party, and soak up every vice allowed in the final moments before disappearing into the woods/mountains/swamps. These two opposing thought patterns exist simultaneously.

The thing that drew many of us to the military in the first place and the infantry specifically was the shot at adventure and the opportunity to be hard. In that hardening process, a deeper appreciation is gained for the simple things in life. An old Army buddy once marveled at the civilian’s freedom to sit down wherever and whenever he pleases, for example.

Imbibing and gorging before a sleep-away camp like Ranger School satisfies the craving to enjoy life now while it is still under control, but sabotages training for the same. Any time some great luxury sits in front of me, it’s hard to resist knowing that when I’m taking a knee on a mountaintop with a shrunken stomach in the near future, I’ll want to slip back in time and dropkick my old self for not eating the freaking pizza. But any thoughts in that food/sleep deprived state aren’t entirely rational and cannot be taken as absolute truth.

What are we training for? This is the question that anyone who trains has to ask. There is a tendency out there (myself included) to think that by virtue of tough training, we’ve bought our permission to enjoy the things that set us back (name your vice). In fairness, I know some people who seem to be able to train hard and party hard all the time. I don’t know how they do it, but I know that I can’t. If I want to achieve something difficult, I have to commit to be all in.

And that’s hard.

 “I’m calling you a killer. A natural born killer. You always have been, and you always will be. Moving to El Paso, working in a used record store, goin’ to the movies with Tommy, clipping coupons. That’s you, trying to disguise yourself as a worker bee. That’s you tryin’ to blend in with the hive. But you’re not a worker bee. You’re a renegade killer bee. And no matter how much beer you drank or barbecue you ate or how fat your ass got, nothing in the world would ever change that.”
-Bill, to the Bride (Kill Bill)

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