Skip to content

Revenge as policy and ideology for terror

Righteous vengeance often spurs the rage that spills blood endlessly. In the 1998 film, ‘Savior’ revenge and the brutality of war steers our ‘hero’ Joshua Rose (Dennis Quaid) into his redemption. After losing his family in a terrorist attack, he walks into a nearby Mosque where he suspects those responsible to be, to gun down a group of praying men. He escapes to join the French Foreign Legion, there he learns to be a soldier, becoming a sniper. After his six years in the Legion is up, Joshua declares that he would like to ‘kill people that he hates for a change’. Cut to Bosnia, 1993. There he fights for the Serbian nationalists against Bosnian Muslim militias. Now he can continue to kill for vengeance against Muslim’s, to Joshua all of them are responsible for his families death.

Joshua’s hatred sees him fighting alongside rapists and murderers. Whatever morality he had before the death of his family has become soured by his fatalistic hatred. This is not a review of what is an underrated film. Rather a look at the protagonist as a fictional example of how a man can become that which destroyed his own world. Joshua’s redemption comes when he rescues a mother and child from his fellow warriors. The Bosnian Muslim mother, Vera (Natasa Ninkovic) and her baby suddenly become human beings to him, as they would have been before his own families slaying. Deserving of life, not rape and murder.

In a terrifying graphic scene, where a group of Bosnian civilians are murdered by Serbian militia men, including the bludgeoning to death by a sledgehammer of the innocent. We watch helplessly as Vera sacrifices herself while Joshua and her baby remain hidden, she sings a lullaby to calm the crying child. Then a warrior bashes her skull in with a hammer. His commander, carelessly shaving in the distance. Moments later, the remaining unarmed civilians are gunned down by the warriors of a cause. Hearing something the murderous warriors nearly find Joshua and the baby. In an attempt to keep the baby quiet, Joshua nearly smothers it to death. Once in the clear he desperately revives the child, the sweet innocent life nearly another lost statistic. The baby cries back to life. Joshua’s redemption is in saving a life, not in taking more. He protects and shields the child across the battlefield to safety.

War is the miserable ambition between those who seek many things, revenge often spurring terrorism and reprisals. For a man like Joshua revenge is personal though he seeks to punish collectively. The collective desire for vengeance where the enemy is a religion, race, nation or people. Every single member of the pariah demographic becomes an inhuman threat. As one Israeli Defence Force spokesperson referred to the children of Palestine as “snakes.” Even the child apparently possess deadly venom and surely will grow to be a predator. Vengeance most likely being venom enough to mature a boy into an eager terrorist bent on revenge.

In books such as Barbara F Walter’s ‘Reputation and Civil War’, the distant academic writing looks at civil war and separatist conflicts as ‘experiments’ for a theory. To read such a book one must remove themselves from the gore and tears of human existence to understand the planners need to create the semblance of balance and order, to understand clinically that which is ruled by passions. Such a theory determines that reputation why such conflicts are so violent. Yet, Robert Fisk in ‘The Great War for Civilisation’ and his many other writings repeats that it is justice. One must first experience a wrong to seek justice. And just like vengeance it’s a personal emotion, a motivator that can become generational.

On the other side of that, is the imperialists sense of entitlement or even destiny. One can push and expand their culture and civilisation beyond the homeland, deep into what is decided to be a frontier, wilderness or a ‘land without people’. Whether through religious dogma or a racial-ethno ambition the conquest and expansion is in itself justification, fulfilling destiny. Victory, and the eradication of the aboriginal is proof of a divine right or a supremacy. Even if these victories often were at the expense of claimed principles and through betrayal, however it is achieved does not matter. When the defeated become a minority, as Bassem Youssef points out, that is when the native is empathised with, they are felt sorry for. When they are no longer a threat. Powerless, without revenge or justice. Only to be subjugated and become dependent upon the conqueror.

If you are to marry both imperial entitlement with a need for vengeance, then you have Hitlerism and what helped spur the rise and policies of German national socialism. The need for revenge can be massaged and invented, it may come from an event or defeat. A pariah group, whether that is defined by class, race or religion becomes the culprit. The will for justice and revenge is a policy and an energy that moves history. To be in constant conflict is in itself the key ingredient for most political ideologies, and war is a special place to grow and define. Just as revenge can become policy for a state, it can also be a doctrine that spurs separatists, freedom fighters, terorrists.

In order to accomplish the most horrible acts, one needs a sense of righteousness to motivate the killers and to blanket the atrocities before the watching world. It is how millions of people can be killed without recourse or even shame. Global sympathy and tolerance for the United States was gained after the terrorists attacks in 2001. Whether those nations invaded by the USA, or the millions of people killed had anything to do with the terrorism, did not matter. The energy and emotional endorsement that many in the world shared, in that period, understood the need and intent of the US government to take revenge, to bring the murderers and plotters to justice. That sentiment and energy was, as is often the case, cynically betrayed by the US government to wage a war of hegemonic self interest. Generating thousands of micro incidents where revenge, helpless rage and brutal reprisals come from those who were wronged.

Interventionists such as Samantha Power argues in her essay, ‘Raising the Cost of Genocide’, for “Creating short-term political costs for those who do nothing.” To do nothing in the intervention between warring factions, to stop the disparity of power between a mighty state or group against a smaller and weaker group. Yet, the reverse is true when favoured nations such as the United States are killing thousands of innocent people, especially when revenge is strategic. The inconsistent imbalance of such hubris leads to greater disorder and chaos, despite academic papers written as white house resume cover sheets. Despite a “rules based order”, that such theorists tout, raw human emotion for revenge is crucial, even for them to execute military actions.

For small factions the call to kill has been used by those who also wear the had of the intellectual. The anarchists and left wing extremist groups of the 20th century were not above murdering, by waging a class struggle often under the guise of justice or in the pursuit of revenge and solidarity. Many Fenian’s killed for cause, motivated by a rage that English injustice had invoked, the IRA would continue this on. The British government and it’s loyalists themselves would commit horrible acts in the name of retribution. Ideology like religious faith steeling or moulded accordingly to satisfy vengeance. Among the ranks of the professional, for example the US soldiers responsible for the My Lai massacre, cited revenge, an act of horrible reprisal against the innocent. Enabled by the concept of “free fire zones,” the murder rapists took out their frustration and hatred on an unarmed populace.

Recently in an interview, Scott Horton mentioned the Yugoslav civil war, the conflict that our movies protagonist finds himself fighting in. Where hatreds and cycles of revenge polluted the land with bloodshed. Despite that, “they made it work”, as Scott points out. It was not easy and animosity no doubt still exists, for now however the mass rapes and killing has stopped. The cries for revenge are not currently as loud as they were in the 1990s. For those in Israel and Palestine, the cycle of killing is on repeat. Make no mistake there is no justification for the murder of the innocent, even if a faction claims that it kills ‘collaterally’. Peace can reign, despite humanities best efforts at destruction, nature does return. The saving of a baby, is such a redemption. It should not matter whose baby is being rescued.

Most of us would claim to prefer a baby over a politician or a chickenhawk and yet we continue to see such people rise to the top, becoming celebrities and important. The life of a baby is forfeit beneath the weight of such glory, especially when collectivised revenge is at hand. A Ben Shapiro for example is demonstrably far more widely regarded than any child in Gaza. It is why we can listen to him call for their deaths while we sit on watching them die. At the moment, revenge is the callous reason why the deserve such a fight. Previously it was the entitlement of a state and it’s politicised religion. That perspective is understood by those in Gaza and who are sympathetic to their plight, a resentment that will fester into a deadly hatred and call for vengeance. And as we have seen the reverse is true. Every August, we hear how Japanese babies were worthy of nuclear destruction, deserving it because, “they did Peal Harbour, or Nangking, or Bataan.”

Though inside domestic borders we have the pretence of law and order, a murderer, is granted due process. They as individuals are understood responsible. It would be considered obscene and unjust to bomb the suburb a murder suspect live in, to kill anyone associated to them, or who looked like them. It is also considered immoral to execute them on the spot, without trial. Yet, here we are in a world where those who claim to base their entire system of existence and rule on laws, can kill thousands without the scales of justice being balanced by due process. Only indifferent killing, all of them, vengeance demands it. It is the worse form of vigilantism. Instead of seeking those responsible, one goes on a rampage terrorising all. Reckless and deadly.

Maybe the moral to the story is that revenge is unfulfilling, can you kill them all in the end? Even if you really understand who the them really is. The great disappointment is that those who will sit with a straight face discussing civility and why government or theology is a path for good, will at times support those who use both to wage terror and genocide. Those who take it upon themselves to satisfy personal blood lust whether they have been directly wronged or collectively, it becomes policy, the cause, justice itself. Though at the heart of it, sometimes one group feels it is fighting for its very existence, while the other believes it has the right to conquer and should blood be spilled, then revenge will serve either cause. While the baby lives on in the movie, ‘The Savior’, plenty more in the real world won’t. They will be blown to pieces, crushed or starved to death, apparently all of them deserving such a fate. Vengeance demands it and in time, those babies who survive will learn to seek revenge for themselves. That apparently is the wisdom of man and the policy of the civilised.

October, 2023

Published inAll Articles and EssaysPhilosophy, Society and LibertyWar, History and Foreign Policy