Ed. Note: I’ve opened the door at SJ for posts that would otherwise have appeared at FL.
I am fond of saying that I do law, not justice. That sounds amoral. Perhaps it is. But I have a fallback position. I am certain that I know the converse of justice and that is evil. I write today about an example of evil and why I desperately desire vengeance.
Let’s start with some basics. Legal philosophers who believe in retribution as a proper function of punishment eschew vengeance as a legitimate reason for punishment. Rather they believe retribution has a higher calling. Boiled down, here it is:
(1) that those who commit certain kinds of wrongful acts, paradigmatically serious crimes, morally deserve to suffer a proportionate punishment; [and]
(2) that it is intrinsically morally good—good without reference to any other goods that might arise—if some legitimate punisher gives them the punishment they deserve.”
Retributive Justice, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Jun 18, 2014).
But to these philosophers, “retributivism ‘is not to be identified with vengeance or revenge, any more than love is to be identified with lust.’” Id. at 3.7.
I believe, however, that in some few instances these philosophers are full of shit when they tell us (including our governments) not to seek vengeance. In the case I write next about, vengeance for the sake of vengeance suits me just fine. Indeed, if I was to act in my judicial capacity, I am pretty sure I would be vengeful.
Michael Karkoc is a 98-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. If you believe the Polish authorities, he is also a monster. Poland will seek the arrest and extradition of Karkoc, who the Associated Press reported is a former commander in an SS-led unit that burned Polish villages and killed civilians in World War II.
As Cleve R. Wootson Jr. explains for the Washington Post:
It’s unclear whether the Nazi unit commander knew precisely who had killed an officer in an attack near a Polish village — but there was no doubt about who was going to be punished.
In the summer of 1944, the commander turned his attention to civilians in two Polish villages and ordered his troops: “Liquidate all the residents.”
His men did exactly as he instructed:
The next morning, according to the Guardian, soldiers started setting villagers’ homes on fire, then shooting anyone who tried to get away.
“You could hear machine-gun shots and grenade explosions,” recalled Stanislawa Lipska, a survivor from one of the villages, Chlaniow. “Shots could be heard inside the village and on the outskirts. They were making sure no one escaped.”
Vasyl Malazhenski, a soldier in the company, recounted that he “could see the dead bodies of the killed residents: men, women, children.”
Assuming the Poles can prove that Michael Karkoc is who they say he is, and that he did what they say he did, I could not care less that he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, that he is old, that he raised a fine and loving family while working hard as a carpenter, and that he otherwise lived an exemplary life.
I hunger for vengeance. I want Karkoc to serve the rest of his days alone, disoriented and confined in a foreign country. I can’t get the echo of laughter out of my head.
Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)
 There is a limiting factor that I have omitted because in the context of this post it does not apply once guilt has been established. That is, “it is morally impermissible intentionally to punish the innocent or to inflict disproportionately large punishments on wrongdoers.” Id.
 Karkoc’s family has denied the allegations and offered a record of the older man’s past that contradicts the AP’s account. Karkoc’s son, Andriy, called the accusations “evil, fabricated, intolerable and malicious.”
 Adolf (Karl) Eichmann, the CEO of the final solution, declared near the end of the war that “he would leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.” Ron Rosenbaum, Hitler, Continued: Afterword from the Updated Edition of “Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil,” Los Angeles Review of Books (July 10, 2014) (citing American journalist and war correspondent, William Shirer, who wrote The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, perhaps the definitive history of Nazi Germany).