“Response in kind.” It’s the principle that we are allowed, at least temporarily, to “fight fire with fire”. I tell my boys that they are allowed to hit back, no matter who is hitting them. One of the Kennedy boys reported asking his father if he should respond in kind to a diplomat’s child who was hitting him. His father’s response, “Go to it.”. On an MTV show, the rapper Ja Rule echoed the sentiment when he said he gave his daughter the directive to hit someone back if they hit her. It’s usually a straightforward concept on the playground. Elsewhere, it tends to be more complicated right from the start.
As an adult, supposedly wiser and more mature, we sometimes still find ourselves in conflict and in various modes of combat, sometimes even physically violent combat. But, as supposedly more enlightened people, adults can, should, and usually do apply a more complex ethic to their circumstances. We’re better players, so we play a more complicated version of playground diplomacy. Our circumstances have more variables. Our experience is broader. Our options are more varied and subtle. Our opponents and allies are more dynamic and skillful. Sometimes, like that little boy or girl on the swings, at the jungle gym, or traversing the monkey bars, we still get it wrong.
We tarnish our honor. We transgress our rules. We violate our ethics. We take liberties. We fudge. We cheat. We “don’t live up to our standards”. There’s lots of euphemisms for it, but I think it is most clearly stated as this: We do wrong.
I won’t deny that there is often a tremendous amount of context that needs to be taken into account to truly understand some wrongful acts. Hiroshima might be an example. But, sometimes, the context only masks the wrongfulness. The attacks of 9/11 might be an example. In both examples, there is probably an element of what might be called “the Chicago way”. “You put one of mine in the hospital, I put one of yours in the morgue.”
Really, though, 9/11 was just a surprise attack on undefended, non-combatants in violation of the pretext of limited hostilities; a kick in the balls, if you will. In Hiroshima, there is a purpose, to end hostilities by a clear, unequivocal demonstration of supremacy. In the 9/11 attacks, given the theory that it was conducted by Muslim extremists rather than the false flag theory or some hybrid theory, there is no rightful way to respond in kind, and doubly so using the Chicago way ethic. Doing evil is wrong. Doing worse than evil is worse than doing evil. Duh. So how do we respond if not by mirroring the darkness?
Solving this problem is hard. Falling back to the ethical framework that we are familiar and comfortable with is easy by comparison. Doing that can lead us to the rational conclusion that we should respond in kind just this once, just in this type of circumstance, just for a moment.
More succinctly, we should be allowed to be evil just this once, just in these types of circumstances, just for a moment. History shows us, though, that once we have done anything, even if it is evil, we are more likely to do it again. Once we have found a cost effective solution to a problem, we’re more apt to use it than to go back and find a less evil one. The more effective, on a cost basis or otherwise, the greater the impetus to rationalize our actions so that we may continue them. The more we continue, the more the action, evil or not, becomes part of who we are, part of our identity. That one moment of wrong can ultimately come to define us.