'Lessons in Humanity'

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A narrative of progressive evolution of law and society has been dominating international legal discourse for some time now. This is evident in both practice and scholarship. This progress narrative provocatively mocked as 'lessons in humanity' in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, has been created through a rejection of revenge as a possible individual as well as collective response to mass atrocities and human rights violations. However, through an analysis of counter terrorism measures and cultural narratives of the post 9/11 era, this article argues that international criminal law's anti-revenge narrative proves increasingly incommensurable with contemporary zeitgeist and undermines international law's relevance to today's reality. The article traces the origins of the anti-revenge narrative to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal and analyses the impact of its idea of progressive retribution on contemporary international criminal tribunals. It examines the growing divide between the progress narrative of the law and the reemergence of state revenge in response to threats of terror in the post 9/11 era, in contemporary military practices and popular culture. The article shows that while international legal narrative treats the rejection of revenge as a settled question, state practice and cultural outputs suggest a 'return of the repressed' and that in fact the question is far from resolved.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)229-257
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of International Criminal Justice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2019

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© 2019 The Author(s) (2019). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


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