Toward the end of WWII, the Russian Army raped just about every woman in Germany. I’ve never had a problem with that. The wholesale rape was not a military measure by any standard; it didn’t serve to crush the German will to fight, which was already at the low point by then. The rape was not an expression of Russian barbarity: the female populations of Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe were largely spared. The rape was an act of vengeance, and I wholeheartedly approve of vengeance.

Societies punish criminals vengefully. In terms of prevention, it would suffice to ban, say, embezzlers from their jobs, but societies sentence them to prison. Relatives of the victims of violence long for revenge rather than mere prevention. Hebrews were commanded to exterminate the Amalekites for the offenses of their ancestors. Vengeance is not nice, but it restores righteousness.

Defenders of the US nuclear attack on Japan bring up the necessity of crushing Japan’s will to fight to the last man. Nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t achieve that end. After the first town was annihilated in the nuclear attack, Japan did not react at all. The losses were actually much smaller than those incurred in the fire-bombing of Tokyo, and consisted largely of civilians—not a matter of the imperial army’s concern. Still, the US dropped the second nuclear bomb. The role of nukes in the capitulation is still a matter of historical debate in Japan, but most historians agree that exhaustion and the American promise to retain the monarchy were the critical factors behind the capitulation. Nuclear attacks on Japanese cities were a viable, but unnecessary military action. They were a legitimate act of revenge. Such also was the fire-bombing of Dresden—the answer to German attacks on Coventry.

Without vengeance, wars would become a limited liability affair. An aggressor can torture the victim’s civilian population, but the victim—once he gains the upper hand—supposedly shouldn’t reciprocate. Such an arrangement, if ever implemented, would provoke the aggressors’ brutality: at best, they quash the resistance, while in the worst case scenario, their civilians still wouldn’t be harmed.

Fortunately, vengeance prevails in wars.