What Does Revenge Accomplish?

By C. ALTON ROBERTSON, emeritus associate professor at
University of Redlands

September 15 2001

President Bush said in his speech to the nation on Tuesday that we were attacked because the United States is "the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world," and the perpetrators of the attacks want to stamp out this beacon. Does this satisfactorily explain why the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took place?

A general interviewed on ABC said that this was an attack by an enemy who hates us. He gave no reason for this intense hatred nor was he asked to do so. Roy Romer, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was asked PBS' "Life and Times Tonight" about helping children understand what they were seeing on television. He said that this is about conflict resolution and drew a parallel between the horrendous events of Tuesday and a fight on the  playground. This is how some people think they can right a wrong, according to Romer. But no one asked Romer what the perceived wrong was that these people were attempting to right. Are we content to accept the president's explanation that we are hated so intensely and these events occurred because this enemy resents our being a country  of freedom and opportunity? Are we content to assume that it is our best that brought this about? That these dastardly deeds were born of envy and jealousy? Or should we, taking Romer's lead, ask what actions of ours could be perceived by some as so terribly wrong as to evoke such hatred and anger such a ghastly response?

But do we share in responsibility for wrongs that somehow made those who carried out these acts feel justified? I love this country. I am grateful for my freedoms and for the opportunities that citizenship has provided. I am proud of the many achievements we have made. But I also know that my government, acting on behalf of myself and all my fellow citizens, has perpetrated unspeakable acts of violence against the citizens of other states. Why were Palestinians celebrating in the streets of Jerusalem and in the putrid Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon on Tuesday?

Why were people dancing in the streets in Tehran? Why did Chile have to go through 17 years of terrible oppression under Gen. Augusto Pinochet after our government instigated the coup that led to the death of the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, in a country that had a history of 100 years of democracy? Why did we oust Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala? Why did we spend billions of dollars decimating the countryside of Nicaragua? Why were we bombing Cambodia? How long did we support apartheid in South Africa and keep oppressive regimes in office?

The front page of this newspaper [the L. A. Times] on Thursday screamed, "America: Stunned, Saddened and Now Ready for Revenge." Is revenge what the perpetrators of Tuesday's crimes seek? Will revenge in return solve anything? Of course, the perpetrators need to be identified and their supporters held accountable. But revenge, unbalanced by truth, will gain nothing but increased rage and further acts of revenge. Revenge, unaccompanied by self-examination, accomplishes little.

There are other ways to right wrongs and to resolve conflict.


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