Friday, 16 August 2013

A Double-edged Curse

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine.
            You're a soldier. Overhead, you see a conflagration of missile fire, explosions, and the thick, pluming grey smoke which is replete with loss. What sort of loss? The physical kind, the emotional kind, the worst kind. All around you, there are voices. Commands unheard or ignored in the cacophony of chaos; shrieks for help over the howling wind of gunfire; the hoarse, short-lived croaks of the dying. In the trench, head down, waiting for an opportunity to return fire, time does not wait for you to contemplate the loss of those all around. Men and women with whom you have shared a camaraderie like no other. Yet now, beyond the trenches, beyond the thick screens of dust and sweat and bile, people fighting a cause, just like you, have extricated these people from life. From your life, and from their own individual lives.
            Time does not wait to mourn; to grieve is to endure a period that moves ever onwards while you experience feeling the pain of loss that it is natural to feel. To grieve is to stand on the palpable threshold between stasis and progress, to linger with your eyes inverted towards the past, towards a time that only now seems so much simpler, so much easier. So much better.
            In your mind, in the tumult of your thoughts, you swear to avenge your fallen comrades.

And now, witness.
            A boy is watching the opera with his parents. Frightened by the show, the boy's parents take him outside for air. He feels bad, but they don't mind. It has been a lovely evening.
            A man appears, pulls out a pistol. He wants the family's money, he wants the jewels, he wants, in his mind, to reap a form of social justice. To take from those who have in order to satisfy, in this man's mind, a twisted imbalance, an unfortunate inequity born of progress and competition.
            In a struggle, the mother and father are killed.
            Put yourself in that boy's shoes. Feel the guilt he drops on himself. A guilt heavier than an anvil. Did he really need to go outside? Was he such a coward? How could he do this to his parents? Witness these questions, ladies and gentlemen. Witness, in this young boy, a clash of compassion, of conscience, of the events as they truly happened.
            Witness, and weep for that boy.

I could go on and on. The world over, there are soldiers who don't fire in time to save their friends; the world over, there are family accidents where a boy or a girl looks back and sees only their own supposed failing – cowardice.   
            These people, they have their own view of vengeance, and of balance.
            Everybody does.
            Vengeance, balance and justice.
            To quote a short story I'm writing: to see justice in vengeance was to see a double-bladed dagger, dipped tip and tip in crimson, that could never wedge itself into any mould of exacted righteousness.
            So, vengeance, balance and justice.
            Why vengeance? Why do we seek to inflict retributive hurt or affliction upon somebody? Why do we strive to deliver vindication in a world already entombed in crime and violence?
            So many of us will feel the anguish of loss. Sometimes people die peaceful deaths, passing from the now into the beyond during their final sleep, and after our mourning, when we can begin to reconcile our grief with the great memories, perhaps we are able to see that these people, thankfully, were not encroached upon for years by a debilitating disease; they were not driven to a point in their life where they felt that outside of their walls waited nothing, and no one.
            We can be happy, too, that they were not murdered.
            No crime is greater, we know that, you and I. To take somebody else's life. To steal away somebody's wife, grandfather, daughter. To amputate somebody from a life in which they had aspirations, dreams, loves, fears and secrets similar to any other human, but unique because they were that person's alone. All of this, cut away by somebody who thought they were above justice.
            A system of law, with structured rules and strictures dedicated to the protection and preservation of humanity, to upholding the sanctity of life, possession and a hale state of being. Justice – the measuring - through due process - of guilt, the apportioning of culpability and innocence in order to produce - what we hope will be - the right outcome. If a person commits murder, it must be for the law to try them, mustn't it? For the criminal to have to admit their crime; to understand the vicious act they have committed, to see that the self-serving path they followed has hurt others. But there is one extra, fundamental function beneath the surface of justice.
            It maintains humanity.
            To quote my short story again: to mourn somebody killed was to ever know the acid tastes of rage and disgust, never grief alone. If they were a friend, family, if they were loved, would not the mind be remiss if vengeance and hate did not conspire to realign all that was, and is? This is not my view. It is the view of a character confused by loss and the deaths of so many around him. Vengeance. The act of bringing a balance to the wrongdoer in order for them to feel what you feel, for them to appreciate the hurt pulling at you deep within your core. Is this the aim of vengeance?
            Justice keeps the victim's head above the water. Justice is the wise man who puts his arm before the one on the path of vengeance, and he whispers, leave it to justice. Justice is humanity refusing to degrade itself to heinous behaviour; justice is society turning away from the twisted lure of crime; justice is...justice.
            Easily said when within us, hatred and anger flare up, wanting us to swear our lives to a path of vengeance, right? Take The Oresteia by Aeschylus. Agamemnon is killed by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra; both are on the path of vengeance. Aegisthus for his father, Thyestes, and Clytemnestra for her daughter, Iphigenia. The trilogy itself continually focuses on the curse of vengeance. Where is the balance satiated?
            If A kills B, then won't C avenge B? But then, will D, a great friend of A, want C "brought to justice"? – yet it is never as easy as telling a murderer to stand and be tried before a jury, is it? And so, as D would no doubt do, actions are taken into the hands of the victim, of the afflicted, of the hurting. Is it right? I don't think so, but only in recent times have we had a justice system which extends across entire nations. What were people meant to do when a marshal or a magistrate wasn't due to arrive for days, weeks, months?
            I don't have the answer.
            It is hard to break a cycle, and one of vengeful bloodlust is no doubt the hardest of all. Aeschylus creates a scenario where, were it not for Orestes being tried and absolved because of his rationalization of the curse and where it had to end, could his tragedy not have gone on and on until not just a family tore itself apart, but a nation?
            Vengeance is neither justice nor balance. It is a shroud of lies and false righteousness. This asseveration is the only one I make.

Any comments are welcome.


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