“What was done to me was monstrous.”
“And they created a monster.”
– V and Evey Hammond, V for Vendetta
The above quote is between the movie’s central protagonists, so if anyone’s supposed to be good in this story, it’s them, right? They’re both outstanding victims of an oppressive, lying, murdering regime, one that only achieved power by making people so afraid that they submitted. Evey hasn’t hurt anyone, outside one unfortunate detective she maced in V’s defense, and V has almost exclusively confined the list of people he’s hurt to an identical list of those who are most guilty for a long line of atrocities. And yet, V has also cut down men who were just doing their job to protect the public. He has even tortured Evey, the closest person he has to a friend, hurting her terribly in both her body and her mind. Whatever his reasons, and whatever the benefits of his actions, V is anything but innocent.
V’s enemies may be monsters, but so is he.
I usually try to keep politics of all sorts off my blog, simply because it’s not what I intend to address. But, this last week, I have seen a disheartening amount of division within my country. People, generally good people, people who I consider friends, have practically been spitting acid in every direction. Of course we all see ourselves as the heroes of the story, but it’s disquieting how easily we dismiss others as purely villains. I can’t help but think that, yes, someone bad, who was part of a group of bad people, did something bad, and someone got hurt, but that doesn’t automatically legitimize that one man’s enemies as heroes.
I’ve said that before, and I’ve been repeating it a lot this last week. If I hadn’t already said it, I’d likely be saying it this week, but as I have, I address something else.
Every single villain in history did what they did for a reason. Every single monstrous act was done for a cause. Every liar, every thief, every vandal, every rapist, every murderer, and every other foul specimen of humanity you can name, each and every one has had an excuse. If they could justify, rationalize, or otherwise explain their choices, they would never have made them. And isn’t it funny? Every one of them shifts blame away from themselves somehow, most typically onto their victims.
Everything from a common mugging (“they had it coming, they can spare it, they haven’t had it as bad as men, they deserve it”) to a heinous rape (“she wanted it, she was begging for it with her body and the way she dresses, she needed to be put in her place, she deserved it”) to the freaking Holocaust and beyond (“they’re only Jews, they’re rich because they’re thieves and traitors, they deserve it”), it’s somehow always someone else’s fault when a man chooses to become a monster.
It’s always because of what was done to them, as if that makes them less guilty of what they’ve done.
Now, I believe in mercy. I believe in redemption and forgiveness. I believe in understanding. But I also believe in personal responsibility.
A man is defined by what he does and why he really does it, not the excuses he gives for it. He is defined by himself, not his enemy. His standing as “good” or “evil” rests with him, not his enemy’s standing.
Stalin was not good just because he opposed Hitler, though many people thought Hitler was good because he posed a threat to Stalin.
One person’s monstrosity does not make their opponent somehow innocent by default.