Monday, 16 February 2015

Revenge is rarely the answer

The despicable actions of Isis, reaching new depths of depravity recently with the execution of the Egyptian Christians and the burning of the Jordanian pilot, Lieutenant Muath al-Kasaesbeh, after tormenting his family by raising their hopes with talk of a prisoner exchange, have led to both Egypt and Jordan carrying out  air attacks against Isis targets. Whilst it is easy to appreciate the desire for revenge, the view that "revenge rarely works" has to be both supported and used to guide future actions. Did it serve any real purpose at Dresden seventy years ago? If the enemy uses barbaric tactics, is it necessary to do the same to defeat them?
       History has so many examples to show us how, even after wars where hatred and cruelty have reigned supreme, the creation of a lenient and sensible treaty has led to long periods of peace. For example, the Boer War, despite the suffering on both sides, media-fuelled hysteria, and the use of concentration camps and guerilla tactics, ended in 1902 with the Treaty of Vereeniging, which not only promised self-government to the "enemy", Transvaal and the Orange Free State, but granted three million pounds from the British to repair the damage done to their land. As a result, South Africa fought as an ally of the British in World War One. Had a vindictive treaty been imposed by the British victors, would that have been likely, or indeed, even possible?
    Revenge must have been desired by most of the British population after the horrors of World War Two, even after Dresden`s destruction, but the granting of financial aid to Germany through the Marshall Plan, and the now well-known cancellation of German debts, resulted in both economic recovery for West Germany and a new ally for Britain. Of course, there was the anti-Russian propaganda being stirred up by Churchill making the situation rather different, but even so, a knee-jerk reaction to Germany`s defeat was rejected.
     When revenge was enacted after the First World War, and the wishes of the right-wing British press to "squeeze Germany until the pips squeaked" were granted, the infamous Treaty of Versailles, with its "punishment" of land losses, demilitarisation, "war guilt" and massive reparations, simply created a climate of resentment. No reconciliation, dialogue or peace-building in 1919, and look where it ended. Had the French and British politicians used more restrained language, and given some thought to the likely consequences of their actions, explaining to their respective peoples why leniency had to be considered, how different would 20th century history have been?
     History must not be allowed to repeat itself with the Isis problem. Recent events demonstrate how difficult it is in modern warfare to inflict defeat on the enemy: America could not defeat the Vietcong, despite huge military supremacy, and it was the same with the IRA and the Taliban. Indeed, these latter examples surely must give our politicians some clues about their next steps. Even an enemy using the most abhorrent of tactics like Isis cannot  be bombed out of existence, and attempts to do so are pointless and morally wrong. Deeply held beliefs and convictions do not disappear in the face of hostility; indeed, they often become more deeply entrenched when attacked.

      There are other ways of dealing with violence and trauma, and these alternatives have to be explored and attempted. Wars only end when there have been conciliation and talks, and despite Jordan`s anger now, the demand for revenge should be overruled.

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