Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The subtleties of revenge

Shakespeare didn’t write in a vacuum. He didn’t sit passively creating whimsical stories. Shakespeare was a student of human behavior and scrutinized the moral and ethical quandaries of man. He believed that vengeance is the prerogative of heaven.

Last week I read lots of commentary regarding the demise of Osama bin Laden. I am much too close to this occurrence to be rational about what went down in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden attacked my city, murdered thousands of American citizens, many of whom were women and children, and engineered countless terrorist attacks throughout the world.

When those Navy Seals put a bullet in his head, justice was served, commentators said.

But in my view, justice had nothing to do with it. I didn’t see any due process, did you? It was payback, vengeance. And it was sweet.

Throughout many of Shakespeare’s plays the theme of vengeance resonates. What prompted Hamlet to say, “O, from this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth”? Shakespearian scholars have dissected his motives and concluded that he believed vengeance is righteous when it promotes the cause of justice.

Why does everyone root for the avenger in feature films? Thane Rosenbaum, currently writing a book about revenge, poses this question: “Is it because people are immoral in the dark, or is it because we all realize that the avenger's quest and duty is righteous and true?”

America was not content to be secure from another attack. Americans wanted vengeance. It's what took the Marines up Mt. Suribachi and the Rangers up Point du Hoc. Bret Stephens from the Wall Street Journal says, “Revenge is a glue that holds a fractious nation together in the service of a great and arduous cause.” There are situations in life to which the only satisfactory response is a physically violent one. If you don't make that response, you continually relive the unresolved situation over and over.

Last week political pundits attempted to apportion the credit to the parties at hand. Some of those guys need to read the Teddy Roosevelt poem in which he said, “The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”

The competence, professionalism, expertise, and bravery of the Navy Seals who put their lives on the line and pulled off a textbook-perfect mission deserve praise and admiration.

George Orwell tells us, “We sleep safe in or beds because rough men stand ready to visit violence upon those who would do us harm.” My dear readers, take stock of Orwell’s words. Next time you’re in San Diego, go over to Coronado and head for McP’s Bar and Restaurant. It’s a Navy Seal hangout. Go up to the bar and buy a round for the best of the best.

Bin Laden, the symbol of Islamic rage, no longer hides under the cloak of invisibility. It is symbolic that he was taken out not by a laser-guided bomb, but by American fighting men whose names we may never know.

Perhaps the face of the Arab world will now be the young people fighting for freedom in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria.

The people who poured into the streets May 1 to cheer outside the White House, or those in the crowd who gathered at Ground Zero, did so because Bin Laden’s demise was their vindication. Although I am not one to spike the ball in the end zone, I can understand their feelings of catharsis.

We have to be careful that we don’t give way to hate and vengeance. Those who hate carry an empty hole inside of them and revenge is the only way they can fill it up.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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