Wednesday, April 24, 2024

On Vengeance

 I confess to noticing what seems a large number of Hollywood movies and TV series emphasizing revenge.  I recently watched The Mentalist, a TV Series that lasted 7 seasons, with the Australian Simon Baker playing Patrick Jane in the titular role.  Jane as a child was trained by his con-man father.  He was highly intelligent with Sherlock Homes-type skills, so he and his father led the marks to believe he knew what he knew because he was psychic.   Jane, the successful and happily married "psychic," during a TV interview made derogatory comments about the notorious serial killer, Red John.  Red John retaliated by killing Jane's wife and daughter.  Throughout the rest of the series, Jane is bent upon revenge.  He presents himself as a somewhat timid person, afraid of guns, but he tells his partner, police detective Teresa Lisbon (played by Robin Tunney) that he intends to kill Red John in revenge.  

While it is easy to smile at Jane cleverly getting even with whomever insults him throughout the series, if we can stop being charmed, we can see that he is an extraordinarily vengeful person -- or is he?  He questions others who have killed in revenge, asking them if they are happier after they have killed in their revenge.  The answer seems to be, "not necessarily," but they needed to do it anyway.  One such person believing Jane will eventually find Red John, gives him a 45 which Jane tells no one he has.  

Jane eventually traps the person he thinks is Red John and standing in a crowded place with his hands in his pocket, he shoots the person twice in the chest without blinking.  He is arrested and in a single episode is tried and defends himself by describing the deaths of his wife and child, hunting Red John and killing him.  His speech is very good.  He isn't blood thirsty.  He is no threat to anyone else, and the jury finds him not guilty of all charges.  So not only does Jane take his revenge but the twelve people on the Jury agree that he was justified in doing so.

Since this series was very popular, it couldn't end with the death of Red John, so it turns out that the man Jane killed was merely one of Red John's operatives and Jane has yet to find and kill the real one, which he does in a subsequent episode, but he does it the second time in such a way as to not get caught.  He knew better than to go to trial a second time for killing the same person.

We can all think of other movies and TV series that emphasize revenge.  It is in our natures to seek it.  In the Old Testament, revenge is accepted, and rules are provided for its conduct.  But in the New Testament, Jesus countermands that conduct: if a man slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him also the left (or words to that effect).  But that is hard to do, even if we are Christian or civilized in some other way and believe we ought to do that, we at a minimum find it hard.

We Americans were put to the test by 9/11.  Our president didn't hesitate.  He selected Iraq as the current worst example of the Muslim mindset that demolished our twin towers.  He got his revenge: total killed in that three-year war on Terror, 217,500+, in revenge for the 2,977 killed on 9/11, according to Wikipedia.  We, the United States, got our revenge, and yet if we, like Patrick Jane, tracked down the killer of our wife and child and killed him in "cold blood," we would almost certainly not fair as well as Patrick Jane.  We would instead spend a long time in jail.  

The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, and can get its revenge with impunity.  A smaller nation, while getting its revenge on a smaller scale may suffer more as a result.  If there is a tick for tack relationship that has gone on for a long time, it is easy to forget who started it.  For example, the Jews after WWII were in pitiful condition.  The victors in that war felt sorry for them and “on Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Palestine to be partitioned between Arabs and Jews, allowing for the formation of the Jewish state of Israel.

“Since 1917, Palestine had been under the control of Britain, which supported the creation of a Jewish state in the holy land. Sympathy for the Jewish cause grew during the genocide of European Jews during the Holocaust. In 1946, the Palestine issue was brought before the newly created United Nations, which drafted a partition plan.”

And so it happened.  If one read Leon Uris’ Exodus describing the Jewish plight as they were recognized as the state of Israel, one, if one were on the victors' side in WWII, would likely think that was a just thing to happen.  The Arabs in the regions, weren't in sympathy with the victors of WWII, and hated the Jews.  They took a different view and attacked the Jews from the very beginning.  I remembered it at the time.  I also read Leon Uris when Exodus was published; and was happy that the Jews managed to survive the Arab attacks.  I wasn't alone, must people I knew or read about supported the new Jewish state and were happy its Arab neighbors hadn't succeeded in their opposition. 

Time went on, and various Arab nations, usually in concert, attacked the Jews year after year.  They never succeeded in killing them all, but no matter.  A Jihad had been declared so they could not fail, eventually.  As I write this, several Muslim nations under the pretext that Israel unreasonably and with too much vigor responded to the mild attack by Hamas.  Also, they seemed arrogant according to the liberal press which abetted them.

Consider an earlier conflict of this sort, a handsome young Trojan, named Paris stole the wife of Menelaus and took her back with him to Troy.  She went willingly and no war would have been started if she lived in San Jacinto and was talked into changing partners by a handsome faro dealer from Las Vegas, but things were different among the Achaeans and a ferocious war ensued.  Paris couldn’t stand up to Menelaus, but he did manage to shoot an arrow into Achilles foot.  The Trojans lost the war.  Menelaus got his wife back, but for the purpose of this discussion it should be noted that no one from Troy stole any more Achaian wives.  If you pretty much kill all your enemies; then any prospective future conflicts have been prevented. In these modern times Israel fired three wimpy rockets at military installations (at least so far).  Israel isn’t bound by the teachings of Jesus, but Israel’s allies, the most effective of them, are and so the Israelites are trying to seem milder than they feel.  They can afford to, thanks to their being attacked countless times by their Arab neighbors.  As a result, they have become more powerful than any of them, perhaps all of them put together.  We may find out just how powerful Israel is in coming days.

In earlier, more sensible days, such matters as these were decided by duels rather than wars with high body-counts.  Consider for example David and Goliath.  

Not so long ago, in 1806, Dickinson insulted Andrew Jackson’s wife. Dickinson was regarded as one of the best duelers in America. Jackson was a fearless soldier. The future president survived Dickinson’s first shot but Jackson's pistol jammed. In a breach of the code duello, Jackson re-cocked his pistol and killed Dickinson. (Per Wikipedia) That should teach Dickson to watch his tongue. 

If you watch The Mentalist, you will see that most of the time Patrick Jane avenges a slight or violates something important without anyone being killed. The most civilized among us are often accomplished in the art of bloodless vengeance.  And what boots it that the victim of such vengeance spends his nights gnashing his teeth?

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