Two Cheers For Revenge

What would you do if

1. you were a high school student, and other students bullied you on a daily basis?
2. a group of people made slaves of your people for many years, and you felt they still keep you down?
3. you fight to bring the kingdom of God to your nation, and a neighboring nation invades and stops you?
4. a nation tries to exterminate every man, woman, and child of your ethnic/racial group in the world?
5. Your daughter elopes with a young man against your wishes, and brings dishonor on your family?

Columbine Killers
Columbine Killers

In case #1 (bullying), students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold took revenge. They committed a massacre of fellow high school students in Columbine, Colorado – killing thirteen and injuring many more.

Eric Harris and Dylan also identified with Nazis, and we have to remember that many people are bullied, and few do what they did.  According to articles in the Denver Post, the two killers fantasized about hijacking a plane and crashing it into New York City or the World Trade Towers. I guess great minds (Bin Ladin, Klebold, and Harris) think alike.  In fact according to Albert Speer’s book, Spandau: The Secret Diaries, Adolf Hitler too was fascinated with the idea of New York City in flames.

Tevin Geike
Tevin Geike

2. (Revenge for slavery) a group of blacks in Seattle shouted a racial comment at some white soldiers. One of the soldiers yelled back something about the suspects treating combat soldiers with disrespect. Five black males got out of the car, and one of them stabbed a soldier to death. The soldier, Tevin A. Geike, had been celebrating his safe return from combat and his imminent release from the military.  Now this hatred for whites might be because of whites enslaving blacks as recently as 160 years ago, but the problem with that idea is that the epidemic of black attacks on whites is fairly new – it didn’t happen in the 1950’s for example.  It may have to do with the social collapse in the black community: the epidemic of missing fathers, welfare dependency, etc.

3. In revenge for Kenya trying to stop an Islamist takeover in neighboring Somalia, an Islamic group called al-Shabaab invaded a shopping mall:

During the four-day siege in Kenya’s Westgate shopping Mall, al-Shabaab jihadists raped, tortured, beheaded, dismembered, castrated, gouged out eyes, amputated fingers and hung hostages on hooks from the roof.

Explaining this savagery is difficult, because surely the jihadists realized the shoppers themselves hadn’t done anything to them, but the person who reports this says:

To understand the significance of these violent ritualistic acts they have to be analyzed in the context of Islamist honor and shame. The primary motivations of Islamist atrocity is an irrepressible impulse to alleviate shame and a sacred duty to restore honor, serve vengeance, preserve purity, maintain tradition and save face.

I’m not sure that this is the whole picture though.  Perhaps the Jihadists want to instill extreme fear, or hate.  Maybe they feel they are not taken seriously enough.  Or maybe they feel they are pushing away contamination by being as violent to the infidel as possible.  I just don’t know.


Abba Kovner
Abba Kovner

For a few short years, Germany and allies attempted to kill all the Jews in the world. As revenge for genocide, Abba Kovner planned to kill six million Germans because “the idea that Jewish blood can be shed without reprisal must be erased from the memory of mankind.” He was going to do this by poisoning Germany’s water supply.

One interesting fact about him is that when one Jewish girl was taken from Vilna to the shooting pits of Ponary, was shot at,  miraculously survived, crawled out of the dead bodies, and came back to tell her story, nobody believed her except him.

He organized armed resistance to the Nazis in that period, not because he expected victory, because as author Eddie Alexander says in his chapter on him “nothing that is done for the sake of justice is, in the long run, practically useless.”


Nidhi's Mother - Helped Murder her daughter
Nidhi’s Mother – Helped Murder her daughter

Revenge for family dishonor: Nidhi Barak and her boyfriend Dharmender, 23, had run away from their village in the state of Haryana to marry in nearby Delhi, but returned on the promise they had her parents blessing. That was a mistake. When the young couple came back, fine arts student Nidhi was butchered to death by her family, including her father and mother Reeta, as shocked villagers in Gharnavati looked on.
The killers then attacked Dharmender, who was studying at a local technical college, breaking the bones in his arms and legs before beheading him and dumping his body in front of his family home.  The issue to the killers was that in the caste system, the couple were like brother and sister, and so should not be married.

Here is a case that may be less clear-cut:

I remember reading of a British pilot, who bombed the German town of Dresden, saying something like (I paraphrase) “The Germans had the quaint idea that they could bomb Britain with impunity.” A survivor of the Dresden bombing recounts:

It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe. It was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. … We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.

— Lothar Metzger, survivor.

I wonder if Lothar shed tears over the civilians in London, Scotland, etc. who were bombed, or for civilians herded into barns that were then set on fire by einsatzgruppen.  Also, Dresden did have a poison gas factory, and was important to the Nazi war machine.  Nonetheless, there is material for reflection here.

Does revenge work?

Ruins of the mall
Ruins of the mall

Well, Uhuru Kenyatta, president of Kenya, who is determined to fight back against Islamic extremists such as those who took control of the Westgate mall, also says:

one of the root causes for Somalians to join al-shabaab is poverty. For those who are young and poor and searching for identity, religious fanaticism can prove alluring. The testimony of former members of al-Shabbab reveals that many were groomed through offers of money…while their minds were bombarded with a violent and distorted world view.”

This would seem to indicate that we must address the root cause of poverty, and forget about deterrence.  And we might also note that despite the targeted US killing of al-Qaeda leaders, more and more terrorist groups are joining the al-Qaeda network and expanding membership – what led former Australian intelligence analyst Leah Farrell to say, “al-Qaeda’s bigger now than it ever has been.”

In my (the bloggers) view, America cannot solve the problems of poverty in other countries like Somalia. America has a record number of its own people out of work, or on food-stamps, and a full quarter of the adult U.S. population is unmarried women, possibly because of the miserable job situation for men. It has a debt of 17 trillion, and unfunded promises of about 90 trillion. These debt figures are astronomical numbers, in fact, if you put our 17 trillion debt in one dollar bills arranged end to end, they would extend from the earth through the sun and far out the other side.

There is an interesting story from medieval Jewish history of a revenge that failed.  A Jewish woman named Dona Nasi tried to organize a boycott of Ancona, a town in Italy, in revenge for a Pope reneging on prior promises of safety to Jews there (these Jews were escapees from the inquisition in the Spanish peninsula).  Other Jews were allowed to live, but these Jews had converted to Christianity in Spain under duress, and since they were openly practicing Judaism in Italy, they were apostates.  These Jews were dragged through the streets and  lavishly tortured in public in Ancona, and those who would not abjure their faith were killed.

The boycott first looked like it would work.  There was a town further north on Italy’s east coast, Pesaro, that was willing to host the Jews if the trade with the “Levant” was diverted to them.  This started happening, and the merchants in Ancona started going bankrupt.  The boycott fell apart though, for several reasons, including that there were other Italian Jews who feared the Pope’s revenge, and there were some initial problems in Pesaro with the cargo.  Dona was living in Turkey at the time, and had the help of the Sultan, but that was not enough.   If the boycott had been implemented successfully, it would have sent a message, at a time when Jews were an exposed minority that was often attacked, that there could be consequences for such attacks.

The point of revenge is deterrence more than justice.  After an evil is done to you, you may think it is pointless to hit back, and that you are continuing a “cycle of violence.”  But if you can prevent even more attacks on yourself, your family, your friends, your country, and your allies by revenge, then I would say that the revenge is justified.  Revenge can cause fear in your enemy, and fear may work where rationality,  pity and mercy fail.  Of course, as the above examples show, the impulse of revenge itself inhabits the hearts of both good and bad people.

So two cheers for revenge.dont-tread-on-me

A white soldier stabbed
al-shabaab’s revenge:
eloping daughter:
Abba Kovner story: “The State of the Jews” by Edward Alexander (book published 2013)
Bombing of Dresden:

The House of Nasi – by Cecil Roth (published 1948)


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