Does Retaliation Work?


I write vengeful, bitchy characters in my stories. The eye-for-an-eye outlook paints them in a multidimensional color, making them  human. Flawed. Maybe even relatable, or easy to hate. Which is fine, because we write to stir up emotions.

But does retaliation work in real life?

In light of all that’s happening in France, editorials are popping up all over the media, and the opinions are split — some are willing to build upon a measure of forgiveness, some are calling for retribution.

But would retribution accomplish anything?

I don’t know. I’m just trying to follow this though somewhere constructive — as all opinions have merit when discussed in a civil manner.

Looking at history, we’d be hard pressed to find an example where retaliation has worked.

Stalin did not back down when Hitler’s forces conducted a surprise attack. The British rallied against Nazi bombings. The U.S. did not back down after Pearl Harbor. If anything, retaliation caused more death and destruction.  

But on a day-to-day basis, we are inclined to go with our natural instinct and not consult history books. And that natural instinct may or may not tell us to  forgive.

I admire those who can immediately pick one side, because I’m still on the fence, even if part of me knows forgiving is the noble thing to do.

What do you think? How do we forgive those who hurt us? Is it possible to learn to forgive, as many advocate?




21 responses to “Does Retaliation Work?

  1. I believe the answers to your questions, Silvia, are clearly known and likely broadly agreed to by most. If we do not forgive, what are we left with? Good post!

    • Good question, Eric. I think it’s important to forgive so long as forgiveness comes from within, not forced. It may not be an easy place to get to, sometimes. The alternative doesn’t seem bright, though.

  2. This incident has sparked many questions but what are the parameters of free speech? Terrorism is not an answer….. a very thought provoking post.

    • The parameters of free speech? Great question, Patricia. We have to exercise good judgment, I suppose. Exercising the right to free speech when criticizing high offices, or those who hurt others in the name of any given anything, comes with great risks. On the other hand, it is due to criticism that changes for the better take place. Not being able to criticize due to fear, that’s a very tough place to be. Thank you for commenting. Nice to see you back here.

  3. We’ve unleashed the beast and it’s best that governments leave others alone but that probably won’t happen. I don’t think this is going to end well for either side. Great food for thought!

  4. The question I have is that here we are taught that Bullying via Social Media is as damaging as any form of bullying. Yes, I’m for the freedom of speech but not when it attacks others. It IS a STICKY issue for sure. There are times when retaliation is appropriate… BUT is now one of those times? I don’t think what the French did was funny. Yet, we make fun of all sorts of things and peoples… when is it inappropriate???

    • The French have a long history in satire and liberalism. It’s a certain identity, I think, hard to grasp elsewhere. Yes, definitely a sticky issue, Gwynn. Thank you for stopping by.

  5. Forgiveness is best. If you hold on to the anger, then you’re the one that’s hurt. When they say revenge is a dish best served cold, they’re not taking into account how the revenger has to spend all this time and energy on the wrong that was done to him/her. Rather than moving on.

    But it depends on the situation, too.

  6. The idea of retaliation is one that immediately comes to my mind whenever I or someone I love is wronged, in even the slightest way. The sole purpose of retaliation is to hurt those that have hurt you, to make them feel the pain they made you feel. Unfortunately, retaliation does not bring a sense of equality now that you and the other person are both hurt. It does not make the pain go away or hurt less. It often results in a feeling of guilt at hurting the other person and perhaps disappointment in having stooped to the other person’s level. In stories, retaliation brings a sense of retribution, of triumph and justice – it’s just in reality it never happens that way.
    And so, despite my immediate desire to retaliate for wrongs done, I stifle it immediately and then I focus all of my attention on trying to figure out what brought about the other person’s actions, why they did what they did, I have found that understanding the motivation of the other person helps me to see them as merely human, capable of and prone to mistakes. Sometimes I can guess at their motivation, other times I have no idea and I chalk it up to some personal problems they have that I am unaware of – but the end result is my bringing them down to a position of being a person – not some super villain who is intent on destroying the world, not some evil maniacal bad guy set on my personal destruction, not some ‘thing’ that needs to be retaliated against to put it in its place – just a regular run of the mill person with their own problems. I have no arch enemies or arch rivals.
    Forgiveness, for me anyway, is not the act of saying I am o.k. with something someone did to me. It is the acceptance that it happened and the decision not to let it further affect me in a negative way. Holding on to anger, pain, frustration, or vengeance does not do anything good for me, it only takes energy I could be using for other things. I am human so I don’t always succeed easily or quickly at this but I try.
    With people I interact with on a regular basis, when they do me wrong, I like to say to them, “I see what you did there.” and then move on with my day

  7. I would like to note that the above does not concern criminal activity. In situations where crime has been committed, then I feel involving the police is not retaliation, it is enforcement of consequences for the committing of a crime which is intended to deter further crime from being committed and to rehabilitate the offender.

    • Thank you for writing such a thoughtful post, JC, and for the disclaimer. Anger sure doesn’t make us any better, and when boiling inside for long, it could be quite damaging on so many levels. Sometimes, I wish I could exercise more control over it, thought. I wonder how much of this anger, or ability to forgive or not forgive, is human nature, something organic, as much a part of us as our kidneys or liver. And how much of it is something we could change. Not sure. But learning more and more from all of you today.

  8. Silvia, I’m not even sure I understand the newspapers upcoming release with the Mohammed picture that says “all is forgiven”. Who is forgiving whom?

    There’s forgiving and then there’s forgiving. Intentionally caring out violent acts intended to terrorize, intimidate into submission and kill innocent families is a difficult act for me to consider in the context of forgiveness.

    Forgiving is much easier to comprehend and practice in one on one harms, and where we can successfully shelve our prejudices to look at each other as fellow human beings.

    I also think vis-à-vis nation states who are attacked, there is a gray area between retaliation and engaging an enemy to defend one’s nation.

    It’s all very muddled, as you say. We want intelligence to disrupt these plots before they happen, but we don’t want the intrusion into privacies that optimize that same intelligence.
    I have no answers – only see a lot of ‘both sides’ arguments, lots of complex questions and probably more atrocious acts in the years ahead.

    • Sammy, when I saw that picture with the “all is forgiven” line, I’d wondered the same thing. I’m not even close to the situation and here I am, still not sure how I feel about it, and those close to it are talking about forgiveness? And I think you hit a very good point: “intentional” violent act. It’s easy to forgive mistakes, but what about intentional acts? That’s a real tough one. Thank you for contributing so aptly to this discussion. You guys are awesome.

  9. I don’t think it’s just a matter of forgiveness vs. retaliation. I don’t think retaliation is the only alternative to “not forgiving.” On a smaller scale than what happened in Paris, if someone bullies or hurts me (or a child close to me) to be honest, I can’t necessarily forgive him/her. But I don’t want to resort to attacking him/her back. I would want to find some solution that would hopefully not make that person do the same thing again. On the larger global scale, this means, I suppose, working with other countries to find ways to stop the violence without resorting to wars: enhanced security measures, mass public condemnation of the acts and the perpetrators by all groups of people without blindly including an entire group of people (did you see the Daily Show last night or tonight. The one w/ Jimmy Carter? :-) ). Sanctions are used, but those often hurt the innocent. As for the issue of free speech, I believe that should be a very broad right. In the U.S., in a democracy, you have the right to “make fun” of any person or group, including our own president. This has to be allowed. To protect individual’s rights, the U.S. has laws against slander, etc. Thanks for your post, Silvia!

  10. Great thoughtful post, Sylvia. I’ve never found retribution on a personal level to be productive or make me feel good. I usually tell my friends I believe in cosmic retribution or maybe God’s retribution: that cruel or evil things done to you will come back to the perpetrator sooner or later. And they do.
    On a larger scale, I have more difficulty – I couldn’t see the US turning the other cheek after Pearl Harbor or England doing nothing in response to being firebombed by HItler’s air force. The new conundrum is what to do about attacks by religious fanatics. Forgiveness and a lack of response will allow this evil to spread.

  11. Excellent post, Silvia. So much of history has to do with attacking and retaliation, which leads to more attacks, death, separation, and fear. People fear the power of the pen. Words have power. And, some people will do anything to silence another person.

  12. Forgiveness is tricky – I sit on the fence. If someone close to me was hit and killed by a drunk driver, I doubt I would forgive that person. The person who was hit would be the one to do the forgiving but if s/he is not here, then what? I am not sure it is my ‘responsibility’ to forgive – perhaps leave it up to that killer to sort it out between his/her maker …

    In light of recent events – the cartoons were disgusting and reprehensible. The atrocious response by the killers was beyond mad. The front line of all the leaders marching on Sunday in France was the supreme irony – as if they bear no guilt –

  13. Like JC, forgiveness on a person to person level is a healing and necessary. But, with Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers: those involved acts of war. Hitler’s aggression and murder of 6 million people required a war measure. ISIS is slaughtering school children, entire villages, all the while shouting “Allah be praised…God is Good…”
    These are acts of inhumane violent slaughter that are excelerating. Forgiveness here can only come from the victims. Protection and prevention are up to the rest of humanity to stop

  14. I think the wronged person is happier when they forgive, so I always try to pursue that route. But if it’s small things? Oh, vengeance is soooo much fun. But I mean that on a non-harmful level. Like scaring your significant other when they walk out of the bathroom. That type of payback is sweet and well worth it.

I welcome your thoughts.

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