I awoke this morning to a radio announcer reading these lines from W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939":
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
I recommend reading the whole poem. It disturbs me to consider how easily it could be renamed "September 11, 2001." The radio report mentioned that it was read at a recent September 11 memorial and that people were shocked by its relevance. But that's great poetry for you.
Anyone who has studied history can come up with a hundred examples that prove Auden's lines, but I'm stuck on current events today. Evil was done to the United States on September 11, and we've done incalculable evil in return.
Many people cheer what we've done, just as many people cheer when murderers are executed. Human beings think they like revenge. Of course, in the case of Iraq, we took "revenge" on people who had nothing to do with us being attacked, but sadly, that's not uncommon in history either.
I fear that the current dissatisfaction with the Iraq War has more to do with the horrible mess we've created than it does with rethinking whether doing evil in return is a good policy. We question strategy, we may even question whether we chose the right target, but we don't question revenge.
If the human race is ever going to become civilized, we need a better response to evil than more evil.