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Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 2001/ 21 Tishrei 5762

Suzanne Fields

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Making love -- and war, romance and revenge -- "MAKE love, not war'' was the rallying cry of the protest generation. This time we're more likely to hear "Make love and war.'' The trauma of terrorism and what we have to do about it intensifies yearnings for both romance and revenge.

Singles yearn to be with someone besides the cat. Flirtations are more intense. Everyone shares a common bond. Emotions rise to the surface more quickly, establishing rapport that feels sincere whether it actually is or not.

Dating couples who were ambivalent about each other feel a greater urgency to make the leap toward marriage (or at least toward living together). Waiting no longer seems like such a good idea. Married men and women draw closer together, counting their blessings, aware of their good fortune at being alive and together, counting friends who have lost someone close. Arguments seem trivial when measured against death and loss. Why not kiss and make up?

Of course, all this could, and probably will, change in the long run, but Tomorrow no longer feels as open-ended, secure or inevitable as it once did. Not only is there a tinge of "there but for the grace of G-d, go I,'' but terror could strike again. Patience comes with a higher price tag.

Similar emotions lend urgency to the call for action. Al Gore echoes George Bush's call for "justice not revenge.'' It's an appealing phrase, but it's mere euphemism. What most of us want is revenge, the natural motivation for justice.

The urge for revenge was certainly at play in 1941, when we "remembered Pearl Harbor'' and revenge is at play today in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Revenge is the personal, driving public purpose. That doesn't mean we pick 6,000 innocents to kill as retribution for the 6,000 killed, but it does mean that we want the punishment to fit the crime, including punishment to fit the crime of harboring terrorists who make terror possible.

"Laws are designed not to weed out the impulse toward revenge but to contain it in a manner consistent with the maintenance of an orderly and humane society,'' writes Susan Jacoby in "Wild Justice,'' a book that examines these distinctions. We give up private retaliation for public accountability, and therein lies the delicate balance.

The public must have the confidence that there are sufficient and powerful figures among us to act on behalf of the victims. The longer it takes to retaliate, the more that confidence is undermined. Franklin D. Roosevelt dispatched Jimmy Doolittle's B-25s from the deck of USS Hornet to bomb Tokyo in April 1942, just four months after Pearl Harbor, not to inflict damage -- they didn't inflict much -- but because the American public wanted revenge.

Call it justice if you like, but armies are collective avengers. The guilty must pay so that they cannot act again; they must be punished in a manner that fits the crime and as a warning to others not to do the same crime. Such revenge gives the collective psychology a needed boost.

The waiting period between crime and punishment is difficult on the families who have been wounded by the crime. The acts of terrorism are multiple crimes, inflicting a wound on the entire nation. Gathering intelligence to specifically identify guilty parties is similar to gathering evidence for a court trial, frustrating and time-consuming.

So a craving for love and closeness as well as calls for war and revenge are fused in both a personal and a public psyche. Stories of romance and poetry appeal to strength and weakness, joy and sadness in differing moral proportion and emotional vulnerability.

W.H. Auden's "September 1, 1939,'' written when Auden was in New York City as Hitler's blitzkrieg swept into Poland, speaks of his longing for love: "As the unmentionable odor of death/ Offends the September night.'' Once upon a time, school children read Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach,'' his melancholy meditation upon the ways "ignorant armies clash by night.'' He appeals to his companion: "Ah, love, let us be true/ To one another!''

It's the delicate balance between the yearning for romance and the urge for revenge, which lead inevitably, for better and for worse, to love and war.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS