“Forgiveness is the best revenge” — Frederick Lenz. A quote thrown around in our society today, though no one ever stops to consider its meaning. In July 2011 Anders Behring confessed to massacring 76 people, most of them, children. Will anyone tell you to forgive him? Probably not. Most people would hope that the families of his victims would get the justice that they deserved.
I think that justice and revenge are not as different as most believe. Then why is it that revenge always has a negative connotation when justice does not? I believe that revenge is justified because it is the only way to bring justice to those who are in need of it. Good or bad the idea of revenge is definitely a big part of lives and the history of human beings. From ancient myths to the last movie to gross the box office, many things that are a part of our culture revolve around revenge. The two most important markers in American History are the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and their causes are vengeance. Vengeance against the British government for the way they treated the colonists and vengeance against the Southerners for the way they treated African Americans. These two instances have anything but a negative connotation. Why? It’s because we won. We avenged the wrongs of society and won.
Revenge revolves around the central concept of “an eye for an eye”. This is also the same concept that justice is about. As Thane Rosenbaum from the New York Times stated, “Justice requires that no less than an eye can be taken in retaliation for a lost eye, but no more than an eye either.” Most people would regard the phrase “an eye for an eye” as blood thirstiness. However it is the exact opposite. “An eye for an eye” is about exactness. In an utopian justice system, justice must always be proportionate. Otherwise the wrongdoer has underpaid his debt to society and his score remain unsettled. When disproportionate revenge is dealt, the offender and victim are engaged in a blood feud or a cycle of vengeance which is never productive. Therefore, the justice system has a moral duty to make sure that justice is dealt properly and the score is settled.
Our attitude towards vengeance itself is quite hypocritical. While we usually condemn acts of revenge, we also may find ourselves feeling sympathy with such acts. This is because we realize that those acts are morally just. The most popular example is of Osama Bin Laden. He was unarmed and unguarded, but we killed him. We didn’t even bring him to the United States for a trial because we realized that his death was a just payment for 9/11. We shot him because of the revengeful feeling America felt after 9/11. Most people did not regard this action as unjust. In fact most people were happy because they thought that Osama Bin Laden had payed for his actions. In this case justice and revenge are pretty much identical.
Michael Woodmansee who murdered a 5 year-old in 1975 (he allegedly ate the boy’s flesh and shellacked his bones) is now being released from prison after serving only 28 years of his 40 year sentence. The 5 year-old’s father, John Foreman, now faces running into his son’s murderer in their small town. Mr. Foreman stated, “If this man is released anywhere in my vicinity, or if I can find him after the fact, I do intend to kill this man.” It may seem like he wants revenge, but all he also wants justice for his son murder. It’s so clear that he wants is both. They are in fact the same thing. Society has just been duped into things that they are not.
Shortly after 9/11 George.W.Bush stated, “Ours is a nation that does not seek revenge, but we do seek justice.” This line did draw applause. Why? We, as a people, have been trained to think of justice as a sign of honour of refinement. While revenge is primitive and barbaric. However, a cry for justice is always a cry for revenge. By looking towards the law people are not disavowing vengeance, but on the contrary “seeking to be avenged by the law”. Justice and revenge are both only properly satisfied when victims have their voices heard and the wrongdoer punished. John Foreman, the suffering father, with a debt left unpaid and all those families in Norway must resign themselves into accepting the jury’s verdict. “The public loses faith in the law — with all its false outcomes and broken promises.” In essence, justice and revenge are mirror images occupying the same scale measure for measure.
My original understanding was that revenge is not justified. My opinion may have been modified, yet has not completely changed. Revenge is saying that if someone wrongs you then you can wrong them back. “The initial wrong justifies the revenge” I do not believe in this concept. Once you act out of revenge you will be stuck in a cycle. Bin Laden himself claimed that the infamous 9/11 was actually his form of revenge because the United States used his homeland as a base during the Gulf War. Because we violated the security of the Muslim world he invaded our. This kind of hateful acts will destroy everyone and can be catastrophic as the events following 9/11 can show us. After his daughter Julie died in the Oklahoma City bombing, Bud Welch stated, “It was out of rage and retribution that Julie and so many fine people are dead today. After I began to realize what drove McVeigh and Nichols, I realized that I didn’t want to let my rage and revenge get out of control like it did with them.” I also don’t believe that revenge is the same thing as justice. With revenge you are coming from a negative place, and have not considered using those feelings to bring about change. As William Mikulas, professor of psychology at the University of West Florida, states, “It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to hold people accountable for their actions or that you don’t want to seek justice. With revenge, you are coming from an orientation of anger and violence or self-righteousness… You’re coming from a place of violence and anger and that’s never good.” “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves,” is a famous Chinese proverb attributed to Confucius. If we act out of revenge then I believe that the second grave is ours. Now the only question is do we have to lie in it.
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