The Siege of Blair Mountain

A gripping account of the 1920s conflict between mine workers ...


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by Simone de Beauvoir

Translated from the French with an introduction by Lisa Lieberman

An Eye for an Eye

AN EYE FOR AN EYE

“Our executioners have corrupted our morals,” noted Gracchus Babeuf with regret [Babeuf was a radical during the French Revolution, a staunch believer in equality who is regarded by many as the first Communist]. We too, under Nazi oppression, when faced with traitors eager to compromise themselves, felt murderous impulses arise in our hearts, sentiments for which we’d never developed a taste. Before the war we never wished ill of our countrymen; words of vengeance and expiation had no meaning for us. We scorned our political or ideological adversaries more often than we detested them. And as for those individuals who society condemned as harmful, such as murderers and thieves, we didn’t consider them our personal enemies; their crimes appeared in our eyes as accidents provoked by a social order that didn’t give everyone a fair chance, but they certainly didn’t compromise our own cherished values. We wouldn’t have pressed charges against a thief, because we don’t feel entitled to our possessions; a murderer might have inspired horror, but not resentment: conscious of our own privileges, we wouldn’t have dared demand that someone forced by poverty or birth to live outside the human community should respect our lives. We wouldn’t have wanted to be complicit with a justice system that tenaciously upheld an order that we deplore.

But since June 1940 we have learned both rage and hate. We’ve wished for the humiliation and the death of our enemies. And today, each time a tribunal condemns to death a war criminal, a betrayer, a collaborator, we hold ourselves responsible for the verdict. Since we have desired this victory, since we have demanded this punishment, it’s in our name that one judges and punishes; we are the selfsame public opinion that is expressed in newspapers and notices, in meetings, and which special bodies have been set up to gratify; we are overjoyed by the death of Mussolini, the hanging of the killers of Kharkov [a German counteroffensive against the Soviet army that resulted in great carnage], the tears of Darnand: in this way we have played a part in their condemnation. Their crimes have struck at our very hearts; it’s our values, our justification for living that we reaffirm in punishing them.

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