Revenge and Justice
At first we were told that bin Laden – true to his tyrannical character – went down fighting; firing from an automatic weapon and hiding behind his youngest wife. The outrageous manner in which he left the world was met with euphoria in the streets across the United States. People were celebrating that justice had been done; a man of unmatched evil was met with an appropriate form of justice.
But now it has come to light that things didn’t play out that way. bin Laden didn’t go out firing at the US SEALS, in fact he was unarmed; bin Laden wasn’t using one of his wives as a shield, in fact, she had left him to make a charge at the SEALS. This begs the question, has justice actually been done? No, revenge has been done. And revenge must never be confused with justice.
Revenge doesn’t say, “An eye for an eye.” It says, “You take my eye, and I’ll blow out your brains.” It doesn’t say, “An insult for an insult.” It says, “You cross me once, you cross me twice, and I’ll destroy your character and your career.” It doesn’t say, “You organize an act of terror, and we’ll punish you.” It says, “You organize an act of terror, and we’ll use the overwhelming military force of a superpower to recast the political landscape of the entire region from which you came.” Revenge abandons the principle of “measure for measure” and, acting out of injured pride and untamed fear, gives itself to punitive excess. That’s why revenge is morally wrong. In its zeal to punish, it overindulgently takes from the offender more than is due (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 159).
Some are saying, “Who cares?! The man was evil and the manner in which he died is insignificant.” Well, it does matter. Revenge is not justice. In seeking to bring evil to justice the good guys have effectively become the bad guys, they’ve become the very thing they were fighting. Revenge is not justice, it is itself an act of injustice and only serves to promote further acts of injustice. What will bin Laden’s death achieve? Had he died meeting justice and not revenge I would’ve said, ‘its made the world a slightly safer place.’ But because he died in an act of revenge the only answer can be; ‘evil.’ The ‘good guys’ have now become part of a vicious circle of revenge.