I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book today called If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Here are a few snippets from an address to Agnes Scott College, which is a women’s college. The piece is entitled Advice to Graduating Women (That All Men Should Know).
I am so smart I know what is wrong with our world. Everybody asks during and after our wars, and the continuing terrorist attacks all over the globe, “What’s gone wrong?”
What has gone wrong is that too many people, including high school kids and heads of state, are obeying the Code of Hammurabi, a King of Babylonia who lived nearly four thousand years ago. And you can find his code echoed in the Old Testament, too. Are you ready for this?
“And eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
A categorical imperative for all who live in obedience to the Code of Hammurabi, which includes heroes of every cowboy show and gangster show you ever saw, is this: Every injury, real or imagined, shall be avenged. Somebody’s going to be real sorry.
Bombs away – or whatever.
When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ” Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” What kind of a man was that? Any real man, obeying the Code of Hammurabi, would have said, “Kill them, Dad, and all of their friends and relatives, and make their deaths painful.”
Revenge provokes revenge which provokes revenge which provokes revenge – forming an unbroken chain of death and destruction linking nations today to barbarous tribes of thousands and thousands of years ago.
We may never dissuade leaders of our nation or any other nation from responding vengefully, violently, to every insult or injury. In this, the Age of Television, they will continue to find irresistible the temptation to become entertainers, to compete with movies by blowing up bridges and police stations and factories and so on.
Fires, explosions. Come look. Oh my gosh – hey wow.
To quote the late Irving Berlin: “There’s no business like show business.”
It seems that not only in our response to slights, not only do we not take the high road, but our responses create the unbroken chain of violence that Mr. Vonnegut speaks of. One only has to look at the Iraq War and now the emergence of ISIS. It also seems as if our response is always disproportionate to the original slight.
I was reminded today, while reading this, of a show I used to watch as a kid. It was called Sledgehammer, and it was a spoof of the kind of over the top Dirty Harry character that always uses excessive force. I think the link to the video is a good metaphor for our foreign policy. In the clip the police are being shot at by a sniper. Rather than simply take the bad guy out, Sledgehammer pulls out a bazooka and blows up the entire building in which the sniper has his nest.
Oh my gosh – hey wow.