In the New Yorker, Jared Diamond profiles the patterns of war and revenge in a New Guinean clan, the Handa. The main character, Daniel, lost an uncle to a conflict that started generations ago by pig ruining a garden of a villager. The pig purportedly belonged to a member of another tribe and very quickly, village battled village for honor.
The Handa value avenging the deaths of their relatives in battles – Daniel had lost his uncle in one of these battles and spent three years organizing attacks on the enemy, until he reached his goal of paralyzing the man who was responsible for the death of his uncle. Upon realizing his goal has been achieved, Daniel felteuphoric and happy. He had met his obligation and restored honor to his family and clan.
More than just a chronicle or profile of Daniel, the article describes the closure that we as humans receive with revenge and later on, Diamond expounds on upon it with a story of his own.
Diamond retells the story of a young Polish soldier whose family was killed by Germans during the Second World War. Upon returning from the front, the young man tracks down his family’s killers but cannot pull the trigger to claim revenge. Instead, he has the killer arrested, but the courts release him after one year of incarceration.
The young soldier is destroyed. He carries this debt with him for the rest of his life and reveals it to his wife and son only decades later, weeks before his death, handing them a photograph of the graves of his mother and sister. He never found closure.
The article argues, we’ve created state governments to prevent the eternal escalation that vendettas cause, but in so doing, we have also chosen to forgo the emotional closure that vengeance brings.
In New York, the acquittal of three detectives in the Sean Bell shooting which caused a fiancee to lose her husband-to-be, parents to lose a son, and two daughters to lose a father, must fail to cause the same catharsis sought by those remaining.
The exchange we make for justice and pace is clearly the right one. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to remember the compromise we make.