Cruelty Begets Cruelty

Cruelty Begets Cruelty November 14, 2015

Cruelty Begets Cruelty

Cruelty begets cruelty. It doesn’t matter if you learn this point from Jesus, the Doctor, or somewhere else. Figuring out how to overcome evil not by repaying evil with evil, but by breaking the cycle of violence, is so hard that it seems impossible. But there is no other way.


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  • Ian

    And how many times should we forgive such cruelty? Seven times?

    … Hmm, if only someone wise had an answer …

    • Michael Wilson

      I’m a bit confused on how some see this issue, is it really continuing the cycle of violence to stop and contain a murder or robber? For instance, was the allied victory over Germzny and Japan continuing the circle of violence? I don’t think we repaid evil with evil but stopped a dangerous system. Paying evil for evil would mean commiting genocide on the Axis. I see continuing the cycle of violence is when you inflict suffering on one to satisfy your anger. But if is to deter, repay, or prevent further harm, I don’t see the harm in force

      • Ian

        Of course you’re right. If we wage a just war, and wage it honorably, then we do so for the good of humanity.

        Tricky thing is, we do a terrible job of figuring out which wars are just pre-hoc, and the honorable prosecution of war keeps turning out to be mostly PR.

        So your choice of example wars are interesting. Not the Korean, Vietnam, First or Second Gulf War, not the First World War, the Boer War, the Six Day War or the Second Intifada. Were any of those just? If so, which side?

        • Michael Wilson

          People will always make mistakes whether to act or not act. Still a decision must be made. I am countering a broad commitment to not use force because it only begets more violence. I say sometimes it doesn’t.

          I use WWII because there are few people that think fighting the axis only made things worse. For the pacifist that consitently maintains war is never the answer, they have to explain why WWII is different. Now I maintain that by declining to extract revenge on the axis in proportion to the suffering felt, the allies did break the cycle of violence, did extend forgiveness even though they fought.

          The others are debatable, and since I’m not arguing all war is good, counterexamples don’t undermine my argument. But ill get back to my thoughts on those exampes. Been traveling today and in the middle of dinner, and I need to refresh my self on the Boer war

          • Ian

            I’m not a pacifist, but I do know some. None of them think a war has never proved the lesser of evils. They would concede that there are situations in which a war has reduced the suffering and death overall.

            What they would say is that, this is an exception rather than a rule, in practice. For every WWII, there are hundreds of wars with no such clear end. That simply lead to more escalating conflict. The European theatre of WWII, for example, was largely a consequence of WWI. The Crimean war rumbles on in the Ukraine conflict. The middle east, well… Through history the amount of war that has been fought to minimise human suffering, vs the amount of war fought because those prosecuting it *claimed* it would reduce human suffering, is miniscule.

            Judging whether war is worth it can only happen afterwards (note again how you jump between motivation, strategy and result in your analysis of historic conflicts: a wonderful combination of post-hoc and selective justifications). As such the net risk in waging war is never justified.

            I’ve heard it described as trying to destroy a cancerous tumour by shooting someone with a handgun. It might work, in fact, if you do it enough, you’ll be able to point to times when it saved someone’s life, but the risk of escalating damage is not worth it.

          • Michael Wilson

            I think you could end at your first paragraph. The rest contradicts it, if war is some times the answer, then war is some times the answer. It its some times the lesser of two evils there is no point in saying the risk of escalating is not worth it. Some times it is. When the Germans were bombing Britain it would be foolish to say, it isn’t worth the risk to use war, so forget the fighters and aa guns, will surrender to Hitler.

          • Michael Wilson

            I mean I hate to beat the WWII drum, but again the point is that if it can work, if it can save the lives of innocent people, then we can’t say war is never the answer unless we value pacifism more than life joy and peace. Do the pacifist you know think fighting to save yourself from pillage and murder are wrong? If not then they aren’t pacifist. They just think that war shouldn’t be initiated for frivolous reasons, which is pretty much the position of Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan etc. all of them pacifist or no? Is pacifism just fighting wars pacifist agree with?

          • Ian

            Sorry, missed this response.

            Do the pacifist you know think fighting to save yourself from pillage and murder are wrong?

            Even I can see that this is a silly line of argument. How many of ISIS’s beheading victims died fighting? You’d be different would you? Again, you’re pretending you have foresight: if you’re in danger of being killed, it is very dubious that your best chance of survival is to respond with violence. If you are robbed (pillaged, cute, how very viking – you’re not distinguishing reality from stories much, I think), you are best off not fighting, yes. Someone pulls a gun and asks you for your wallet – give them your wallet.

            No pacifism needed, that’s just common sense.

            Where there is a problem, I think, is figuring out where the dividing line between rule-of-law, state sanctioned violence and war lie. I’m not good at being nuanced on other’s behalf, but I presume there are different lines drawn. But that’s not the topic: the topic was war.

          • Ian

            “The rest contradicts it” – not at all. Did you intend your comment to demonstrate why it contradicts itself, because I didn’t get that at all.

            When the Germans were bombing Britain it would be foolish to say, it isn’t worth the risk to use war, so forget the fighters and aa guns, will surrender to Hitler.

            But again, only because you know the result. If Britain had not won, would war have been the lesser of evils? If, for example, Germany had developed the Atomic bomb and destroyed several British cities, would Britain’s declarationof war have reduced suffering overall?

            I’m surprised you can’t see the obvious difficulty of foresight. I suspect that’s because you’re fixated on WWII, and don’t seem to want to acknowledge the countless numbers of other wars that haven’t ended so felicitously.

            Can you name a war that the side who lost would have thought it less suffering to have fought? If not then, in your estimation, war is only justified if you win.

            Here’s an offer: I offer you $1m, but you’re going to need to give me $250k first. I tell you, you’ve got a 10% chance of getting the prize. Are you going to sell your house to enter the game? See, if you did, and won, there’d be no doubt it was totally worth it. I might even point to someone, let’s call him Mr Blighty, who won last year – it was clearly worth it for Mr Blighty – he won $1m!

          • Ian

            … or, put another way

            (Expected value) = (benefit of success) x (probability of success) – cost

            So citing a historical example that you *know* was a success, and ignoring the probability term, is a bad way to argue that the expected value > 0

        • Michael Wilson

          I’ll decline chiming in on the Boer wars, ratger convoluted buisness. On Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf war and WWI N Korea, N Vietnam, Iraq, nor Germany had a right to invade and their victims and allies were just to resist, but in WWI and Vietnam I think there is a good case to be made that it would have been better to quit the fight than continue. In law enforcement this comes up to when police have to ask how far they can push to wipe out some vice or catch a crook. Even if it was just to recover French or Russian land captured by Germany, fighting for it really crippled those societies more than accepting the loss. Further, the conditions of the peace are thought by many to have been punitive to the point of encouraging a new war. The rebuilding of the Axis is a redress of this excess. I think it is the model of ending a cycle of violence. On the six day war, while there are those that argue the arabs were not planning an attack, but ill stick with the conventional wisdom that it was forstalling an Arab attack and was justified, whereas the Arab princes were not justified in their attack. As for the intifada, I think launching war without hope of success is wrong. At a certain point one has to concede that the suffering is not worth the demand for vengeance, honor, or payment.

          • Sorry, I’m bringing a comment to this so late–somehow missed this article of McGrath’s.

            From the perspective of a retired American literature/history teacher and a lay historian (read so many scholary tomes my brain had to move;-),
            I would say the whole issue of war is highly complex, but that in most cases, war is the result of various levels of evil, rarely good versus evil. Even in the case of WWII which is the best case of the “just” war, the Allies became like the Nazis and the Japanese Warlords:-( At the start of the war, the Allies condemned the Nazis and the Warlords for bombing innocent civilians. By the end of the war we did exactly the same–of course in the name of a future possibility, saving American soldiers’ lives (which is admirable until you compare it to thousand of children, doctors, the elderly burned to crisps, their eyes turning to liquid and running down their burned faces:-( We, the Allies, intentionally burned by bombing at least 700,000 innocent civilians!

            Yes, I know we did it trying to protect the innocent from evil leaders, but…
            Even such generals as Dwight D. Esinhower and leaders of religion such as C.S. Lewis condemned slaughtering civilians. Besides according to Esenhower and others, at least some of the bombings weren’t even “necessary.”

            Now, how is all that different from the situation in Palestine/Israel where I used to live for a short time, working on a kibbutz, only about 2 kilometers from Palestine in one direction, and 1 1/2 kilometers from Jordan in the other?

            Almost no Israelis have acted like the Nazis, thank God, but they are prejudiced, do persecute the innocent, and Israeli settlers do harm and even kill innocent Palestinians!

            Besides, take a journey back into history. In the late 1800’s, only about 5% of the area was inhabited by Jewish people. This changed drastically because of illegal immigration. Our own kibbutz came about in the 1930’s. Of course this happened because of the Nazis. Understandable, but that didn’t justify the persecution and killing of Palestinians, or even illegal immigration! Remember, the Jewish people, also had terrorist organizations including the Irgun, which blew up the King David Hotel, site of the British rule, killing many people and wounding many.

            Furthermore, why is it just for an American couple only because they are Jewish to move to Israel and take Palestinian land, but wrong for Palestinians who have lived there for hundreds of years to strongly oppose such theft?

            Consider the case of the Palestinian Christian family whose orchard the Israeli government bulldozed, and whose land the Israeli government keeps trying to take away. Etc.

            See! All of this gets complicated, doesn’t it?

            Evils like war are that way. “I have a right to kill innocent people in your nation because you killed innocent people in my nation! NO.

            Almost all wars are very different from police action. In democratic countries, at least, police work to protect and help. They even try to arrest murderers without killing them. Any police officer who kills the innocent is not only a disgrace, he’s arrested for murder.

            But in war, it is the innocent who are slaughtered by both sides. If in doubt, read books on the U.S. Civil War, the Mexican War, etc.

            So, I grant that some actions of WWII seem necessary. (I used to teach the Holocaust for many years:-(

            But the vast majority of U.S. wars were not only unnecessary, they were unjust. We were mostly the bad guys, sometimes downright evil, because we slaughtered others, thinking we were doing God’s will.

            I’m not a pacifist now, though I was way back in the Vietnam War.

          • Michael Wilson

            I agree 100% but my point is not that war is mostly a good thing or often, but that cruelty begets cruelty is not always true. You agree with that because you feel WWII was necessary evil, I agree, the allies returning crulty to German cruelty did not make more cruelty, it reduced it. Germany could not carry out its plans for genicide and slavery, which would cause mor suffering in the long run than fighting back.

            Regarding us being like them, yes we did terrible things, but we didn’t send people to death camps because of their race or religion. We did not enslave the Germans and Japanese. The allies whatever their faults were more righteous.

            I agree that many bigoted Jews lived and still live in Palestine and there is sure to be dirty dealings, but it ain’t new, and Isreal treats Arabs better than Arabs treated Jews when they and their Turkish overlords were in power. A Palestine without Jews, or even shared equally with the current leaders of the PSlestinias would be much worse, less just than is the condition now.

          • Heck, the Turkish overlords didn’t treat Arabs well either.

            I agree that Palestine would be a lot worse. Look at Gaza under HAMAS.

            But we should never compare ourselves with the worst!

            For instance, many Jews including Leon Uris (Exodus) claim that Judaism is the Light to the nations.

            Then they shouldn’t think about how much better they behave than Muslims or Christians, but live in justice and mercy.

            Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • charlesburchfield

    IMO it takes a supernatural relationship w the Holy Spirit to begin the process of forgiving. for instance trauma from childhood (especially if one has been sexually abused or bullied because of a disability) can so completely warp one’s personality, control one’s behavior & choices in adult life that one’s whole modus operandi becomes the struggle to maintain resentments. a life based on reactivity to other’s cruelty can easily fall into the realm of an addiction to justifying antisocial behavior. a whole society & culture may fall prey to such, becoming more and more systemically violent. there is no forgiveness in a situation like that there is only the kind of ‘justice’ that punishes and does not restore. those of us kicked to the curb and thrown under the bus know that scapegoating is the only social pressure valve available for most systemically violent institutions & acceptable to a society based on greed and revenge. the one who self-identifies as a scapegoat is the one who generally discovers a supernatural relationship first hand because of the immediate need to survive a toxic existence. one who suffers alone cries and whispers their loss and grief, but God hears and sees (haggar called him the god who sees me). as one goes through the stages of mourning; denial, anger, bargaining, depression one is delivered of one’s illusions and is able to forgive oneself and others because one has been given a modicum of wisdom to intuitivly grok that those who know not what they do are eventually going to be liberated.