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“Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” saith the Lord.

In some otherwise excellent comments on the clusterfucked execution of Saddam Hussein, Josh Marshall said something that gave me pause:

Vengeance isn’t justice. Vengeance is part of justice. But only a part.

I agree that when you’ve been wronged, it can be very, very hard to separate your need for justice from your need for vengeance. This is why judges should always and forever bend toward the asymptote of impartiality, and why “victims’ rights” drives are rarely a good idea.

Vengeance has no place in justice. Vengeance is temporary, short-sighted; the destructive flailing of the hurt who can’t see what they’re hitting. Justice is what you eventually build if you’re lucky enough to survive the ravages of vengeance. —You may feel I’m splitting a miniscule mote plucked from his eye, but this is important: a system of justice that gives any consideration to vengeance is a shameful system, one that mistakes means for ends, that sacrifices peace, justice, for the visceral satisfaction of righteous outrage. Righteous, perhaps; but outrageous nonetheless.

I mean, I know in my bones that impeachment isn’t enough for the various members of the Bush administration. Imprisonment will not bring back the hundreds of thousands of lives we’ve sacrificed for his petty vanity. —When he is turned out of office, I’d want him to tour the country, town by town, set up each morning in the square before the courthouse and allow passersby to sock him in the nose. Not quite inviting passersby to saw at the most famous neck in the realm—Secret Service agents could keep things from getting out of hand—but it would, perhaps, eventually add up in small dollops of vengeance to something you could measure on the awful balance sheet.

But the hundreds of thousands would still be dead, and our nation no closer to something we could claim was health, and the lines would become too long and unwieldy (even if we allowed consolation shots at the noses of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Snow, McCain, Lieberman, et bloody al). —So I agitate instead for hearings, and impeachment; justice, not vengeance.

They really are quite different.

  1. Kevin Moore    Jan 2, 01:20 PM    #

    People prefer vengeance for its viscerality, its immediate gratification of the urge to strike back and administer punishment, for the cathartic cleansing of anger and outrage. And, frankly, it’s simple to define. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc.

    Justice is trickier because it asks all sorts of uncomfortable questions about accountability and responsibility. Hang Saddam, punch Bush in the nose, fine. But what about their political machines, their financial backers, their apologists and yes-men and media parrots and blind supporters? Or the 65% of Americans who gave into fear and unquestioning patriotism and supported the war? The gross disinformation spread by the dictation-takers at the NY Times, etc? The Democrats who felt more concerned about appearances of strength than on demanding the truth or exercising good sense? A full truthful accounting of the players and their roles in shaping these tragedies will be as much the job of historians as of the people of the world, who must look not merely at the last 6 years, but the past 50, perhaps longer, to recognize the patterns of corruption and geopolitical manipulation that have created the messes we have inherited. Perhaps then we will be wary of continued talk of American preeminence and the hypocrisies of Western pretensions to honest brokering. Maybe we will begin to create the preconditions for a just global society.

    And then maybe monkeys will rise gloriously from my anus, wings spread against a rosy colored dawn, signaling a brave new era.

  2. Texas Longhorn    Jan 17, 03:19 PM    #

    I’m holding out for the monkeys myself

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