Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is something that is instilled in our young minds from very early on and constantly reinforced both as a Christian and a moral notion. Christianity preaches about turning the other cheek, civil society preaches about walking away instead of escalating a problem, and children are often faced with choices they deem difficult, especially when faced with such direct instructions. Yet, as an adult, these choices are magnified tenfold, the decisions become more complex, and the consequences undesirable and possibly lethal.
Now, imagine for a moment that you have been eyewitness to the murder of hundreds of innocents, the defamation of all you hold dear, the disgrace of the virgin, the heart wrenching anguish of a mother holding the corpse of a child, charred bodies of once beautiful maidens, the destruction of of the relics signifying your faith, the shuddering scenes of unimaginable brutality, and, most of all, the slaughter of your family. It’s not an easy thing to imagine and requires visual aid to truly be able to grasp what the survivors of the genocide witnessed. It would take the lack of a beating heart not to shudder at the images invoked and not shed tears for all those who perished in such an engulfing inferno of death. The emotions are vivid, even for a foreigner only partially privy to the details of the atrocities. The reactions to hearing about it secondhand are intense and fiery, let alone if one is exposed to the sadistic savagery firsthand.
The thirst for vengeance is not foreign to such a person. If a child reacts to trivial pain with physical aggression, an adult’s deep trenched fury is no alien manifestation. The trauma of witnessing inhumane brutality is not to be taken lightly. It festers within the soul, nourished by the heat of the emotions incited, drowning the individual in the painful need to retaliate. Animal instincts overcome you, logic takes the back seat and hatred burns within your heart. Defensive measures turn offensive, balanced thought loses its calm and patient edge, and the mind focuses on exacting revenge.
Vengeance and justice are not the same thing, however. According to Webster’s Dictionary, justice is defined as “the administering of deserved punishment or reward; the administration of what is just according to law,” while vengeance is defined as “the infliction of injury, harm, or humiliation in return for an injury or offense.” Where one adhere’s to the laws set by others, the latter takes matters into one’s own hands. The concepts are constantly debated, weighting the emotions present in meting out the due punishment for crimes committed.
Soghomon Tehlirian, the young man who took the law into his own hands and assassinated one of the greatest criminals known to history, did exactly that. He took the law into his own hands when the world did not raise an outcry for justice against all that had been done. He stepped forward and shot a man in broad daylight on March 15, 1921, when justice was denied to both the living survivors and the massacred martyrs. He was acquitted, not because the jury believed he didn’t do it, but because the trauma of all he had witnessed had caused a “temporary insanity” and propelled him to murder. He was proclaimed not guilty, not because he was innocent, but because he had meted out vengeance where justice had failed.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is truth in an ideal world. Yet, when those who are placed in a situation where they must judge fairly and secure consequences for inhumane atrocities fail to act appropriately, subsequent actions can no longer be considered a wrong, as the law has failed to provide justice. Vengeance in the absence of law ordained justice thus becomes true justice.