As old as Babylon's exalted king
No, ancient as all human suffering!
The laws of just redress were writ on high:
A man may fairly claim an eye for eye
Or tooth for tooth from his oppressing foe:
See, each transgression buys an equal woe.
The man defrauded by the shoddy schemer
Is due the products of his misdemeanor.
The thief who steals a purse must pay its worth;
The murderer forfeits his life on earth.
But every banker knows that with a debt,
It is a safe and almost certain bet
That equal compensation's no fair trade:
More often than not, there's interest to be paid.
This, to a point, must be considered just:
To punish he who violates the trust
Of his fellow man through jungle deed and whim
And so brings loss and misery on him.
It must be so for any civilization,
That force and fraud are met with execration
And with the sword or with the truncheon heavy
As warranted, and it is fair to levy
Upon each man some measure of expense
That's needed to maintain that man's defense.
Thus, man advances from a beastly state
Towards godhood, or manhood at any rate.
'Reciprocity'think on that word:
The Golden Rule it's called. You may have heard:
Do unto others, as you'd have them do
To you. It's how men interact, the glue
The binds our race together, makes it wise.
A man was meant to act and analyze
In concert with his fellow men his realm,
That none of Nature's trials may overwhelm
The individual who alone must strive
At far worse odds to flourish, aye, to live.
So friendship, courtship have their vital roles,
Direct man's instincts toward survival's goals,
But justice, vengeance too have earned their place:
To cast the saboteurs out from our race,
Or force them to repair the ruinous means
By which they might, unchecked, pursue their dreams.
These are the terms for my engagements. They
Are similar and yet not quite the way
Of chivalry. Few knights would hold them dear
In words, though in their actions it is clear
That they at least would tend to trace this path,
For mercy is less seductive than hot wrath,
And honor less compelling than revenge,
Expedience a keener cutting edge
Than shame, and fear of death is greater than
The will to spare the life of our foe-men.
The gentlest man should hardly disagree
With my prescription for sweet amity.
When meeting friends and lovers, take you care
To give as much or more than them, to share
What you are able, give what aid you can,
That they may love you as their treasured friend.
Here is my protocol to meet a foe:
When you are strong, repay him blow for blow,
But when you are mismatched, he strong, you weak,
Then run or hide or turn the other cheek,
And when he sneers and gloats and turns away
Then STRIKE! This is your moment. Seize the day!
That you may turn the tide and end the war,
So break him till he troubles you no more,
Or offer truce if he is so inclined
To bide by it, but never be so blind
With folly that you turn your back to him
Lest you be subject to his treacherous whim.
The man unjustly tortured by his brother
May rightly slay him as he were another.
The prince who robs him of his land or limb
Should face the rack or pace the dungeon grim.
The tyrant who deflowers his people's grace
Should not escape the guillotine's embrace.
The bully stealing money from a child
Should by all woman-kind be mocked, reviled.
The skin-head who attacks the praying Jew
Should by all goodly men be made to rue.
The battering husband or the battering wife
Should not be mourned upon their spouse's knife.
The torturer, the death-camp commandant,
The Stalins, Hitlers, butcherers who haunt
So many troubled nationswhat is owed
To them is not within the Hague's abode.
No Nüremberg can serve these men as well
As their own people, roused, the fires of Hell
In them, and gathered in a Roman mob;
Within that ocean let them thrash and bob!
Yes, blow for blow! That sacred pound of flesh
I'd gladly have man take and take it fresh,
But something awful happens, awfuller still
Than what began with one man's wicked will.
The killings ebb and flow like turbid waves
Of blood upon the shores of fresh mass graves.
The bodies pile high, higher again
No hole is sooner dug than filled with men.
The streets are ruined, shops are looted clean;
The walls are rife with testements obscene.
Houses burning, sobbing mothers hold
Their infants. Some are dying, some are cold,
Torn by mortar shrapnel or debris
From fallen roofs or walls. A father sees
His son trapped underneath a heavy beam:
Pinned on his back, in agony he screams.
No fighter: the boy's a doctor or musician,
Or an architect just starting his profession.
Now see his father try with all his might
Alone in the sweating, siren-tortured night
To wrest the crushing weight off his doomed chest.
A bloody sun sinks lifeless to the west.
"Why is this?" I ask, but know too well
What has transpired and why the hammer fell.
The bloody banker Justice gives a sigh:
"It seems we've set the interest rate too high.
The terror, wealth of blood and smoke, compounds."
Here is the ancient tale how rage redounds...
One man did wrong and was punished by another.
The excess toll enraged the sinner's brother
To take up arms against the law's decree.
The law crushed him, provoked the enmity
Of all his kin who rallied to his cause;
The plaintiffs, Tories to their Whigs, gave pause,
Then armed themselves to fight, demand their claim,
Where state law failed, blood-feud would serve that aim.
As blood-feud blossomed into civil war,
Non-combatants watched helpless or implored
That all the killing stop and that the state
Would intercede and spare the gruesome fate
That followed when the powers that be, resigned,
Fell prey alike to Guelph and Ghibelline.
I grieve that what I've preached has brought such ruin
And yet I can't renounce it! It is human
To hate one who has wronged or persecuted
Your person or your family. Disputed
Words of logic, rational debate
Would move me far less than my gut-felt hate
If such I was who suffered vile abuse
As many who now clamor for the noose
To stretch the foe-man's neck, his wife and child's,
And end at once his gloating, mocking smiles,
The catcalls, still remembered, and the curse
Which fell on them until the tides reversed.
George Chadderdon © 2000