A War of Revenge

By Michael OŐLeary


I have to admit that there is a part of me that embraces the coming war. America was unfairly attacked on September 11 and the hate and madness that engendered the attack is too dark and horrible for me to understand. There is a part of me that thrills to striking out and obliterating it, to inflicting on terrorists the pain and heartache that we suffered that day. I want somehow to get even, to raise the stakes so high that no one would ever dare to strike us again.


But that is not the part of me I like. That is the part of me that harbors blind rage and revenge, the part of me that I have spent most of my life containing and controlling. I fear that the revenge once realized will be unfulfilling. Sir Francis Bacon said that Ňa man that studies revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.Ó   Israel has attempted to fight the Palestinians with overwhelming force and death, killing two Palestinians for each Israeli death, and the Palestinians continue to terrorize them. IsraelŐs revenge has served neither them nor their cause well.


By provoking us to violence, Saddam is reducing us to his level, making us inflict pain, death and suffering on innocent people just as he did to Iranians and Kurds, and just as Osama did to the innocent people in the twin towers. Bacon warns us away from this as well. ŇCertainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince's part to pardon.Ó  He advises that the high road is the one that will lead to satisfaction.


This is a huge moment for the American government, but it is an even larger moment for the people of America. We have spent two years attacking terrorism, and its dirt is beginning to stick to us. We reportedly are torturing enemy captives. We question the patriotism of those who disagree with this war. We question the motives of those who support the war. We turn quickly on the French and Germans who oppose us. We too quickly question their motives, their courage and their relevance to the world. Cross us and you will pay, we tell the world. And the world responds the way all civilized countries do to forceŃthe world resists.


I fear what is happening to us as people. I worry we are embracing the low and the visceral and turning our backs on the high road, as difficult as it may be. I feel as a people we should look to improve our characters, not sully them. We should show the world how big our hearts are, not how powerful our bombs are. We should impress them with our spirit, not our weapons and our desire for revenge.


We should show the world we are willing to sacrifice to promote our values, not to take a violent and destructive shortcut so we wonŐt have to deny ourselves anything. We need to make sure that our characters are as strong as our military and as rich as our economy.


The Old Testament told us to take an eye for every eye taken, a tooth for every tooth taken. But Jesus in the New Testament told us, when struck, to offer the other cheek. Revenge tells us to strike back, but mature and controlled character tells us to hold steady and stay true to ourselves. Ben Franklin, a patriot of the highest order, reminded himself the improve his character by imitating Jesus and Socrates, two men known for their peaceful characters, not their ability to kill their enemies.


I donŐt admire the use of overwhelming force which kills both innocent and guilty people; that doesnŐt win my heart or mind. It is not something to which my character aspires. Rather, I admire people like the parents of a family who were vacationing in Italy a few years ago. They were attacked and robbed by Italian thugs while they were at a rest stop. In the scuffle, their 12-year-old son was stabbed and killed. The parents stunned the people of Italy by releasing their sonŐs organs for transplants to Italians who needed them. They said they did not hold the people of Italy guilty and wanted their sonŐs organs to give life to them. The people of Italy were stunned by their high-mindedness and generosity, as was I. Those are the people I admire.


We can seek revenge and kill our enemies, but our wounds, and the worldŐs, will remain green.