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Lesson Plan Booster: Does Vengeance Do More Harm Than Good?

osama bin laden

Following the death of wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden at the hands of the U.S. military, this brief guide can be used to engage students and spark discussion during a student advisory period or group mentoring session; or as part of a social studies, history, current events, media/journalism or psychology class.


Grade level: 9-12

Student learning objective
Students are able to view with a critical eye the American celebration over the death of Osama bin Laden, considering both the positive and negative effects his death may have on (1) those who lost loved ones on 9/11, and (2) the future safety of Americans, should retaliatory acts of terrorism occur. Students also consider what message the world has received from American reaction to this incident, and in a larger sense, whether acts of military vengeance tend to increase or decrease the probability of future violence.


1. Consider this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind." For more on the teachings of Gandhi, see Mahatma Gandhi’s 5 Teachings to Bring About World Peace.

2. Consider these quotes from two families who lost loved ones in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Quotes are excerpted from the Death Penalty Information Center.

  • Alice Hoagland's son, Mark Bingham, was killed on September 11 as he joined with fellow United Airlines passengers to ground a plane that may have been headed toward the White House. Hoagland urged a life sentence for Zacarias Moussaoui, who faced the death penalty for his role in the terrorist events of that day. (NOTE: Moussaoui did receive a life sentence.) Hoagland noted that sparing Moussaoui's life would honor "a reverence for all life" and that it would prevent some from viewing him as a martyr. A former flight attendant who is now active in transportation safety issues, she stated: “We Americans have the opportunity to keep him from becoming glorified as a martyr. This man does not deserve that honor. Americans have the opportunity to demonstrate our compassion toward a man who has shown no compassion for America. We are a nation of laws, of justice, and of mercy. By sparing his life, we can demonstrate our humanity by acknowledging the humanity of a human being who badly needs compassion. By sparing his life, we will have overcome the sort of hatred that he displays toward us.” (, April 8, 2006)
  • In a letter to the New York Times, Orlando and Phyllis Rodriguez, whose son Greg died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, expressed their opposition to the death penalty: “We can understand why victims' families would look to the death penalty as a justifiable punishment for convicted terrorists, but we feel that it is wrong to take a life. Nothing will erase the pain and loss that we must learn to live with, and causing others pain can only make it worse. If any good can come out of the disaster of Sept. 11, perhaps it will include examination of how we can maintain our humanity in the face of terrorists' threats.” (New York Times, letter to the editor, January 4, 2002)

3. Consider the following news articles that analyze the long-term impact of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Included in some of these are warnings of the danger of terrorist retaliation for bin Laden's death.

Al-Qaida will seek revenge: Death of Osama bin Laden not the end of 'war on terror'
World Reaction to Osama bin Laden’s Death
The Price Tag of the Sept. 11 Attacks
Sept. 11: The Day the American Decline Began

4. Consider the article “An Alternative to War,” by Michael Ratner and Jules Lobel. The article and many other excellent resources are contained in the report War, Terrorism and Our Classrooms, available from Rethinking Schools.

5. Consult the EducationWorld resource Timeline of Terror for a history of significant terrorism-related events over the decade 2001-2011, and read the text of President Obama’s address to the nation regarding the death of Osama bin Laden.

Introducing discussion to students
I know you’ve probably seen a lot in the news about the death of Osama bin Laden. We’re going to explore what this incident means for us as a nation and think about ways in which different groups might interpret the event differently. We’re also going to talk about the concept of vengeance and consider whether there are both positive and negative effects of vengeance.

Options for student discussion questions

  1. What are some of the things you’ve seen, heard and read about the death of Osama bin Laden, either in the media, or among people you know? How does the coverage or discussion make you feel? How do you think the coverage or discussion makes the following groups feel: people who’ve lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, “average” Americans, anti-American terrorists, countries outside the U.S., members of the military, other groups?
  2. Will the death of bin Laden mean the end of the “War on Terror”? Are we better off (or safer) as a country in 2011 vs. 2001?
  3. What does the Gandhi quote mean to you? Even though our first instinct as a country may be to seek vengeance when Americans are harmed, what are the actual benefits of vengeance? Do the short-term benefits differ from the long-term benefits? Does vengeance do more harm than good?
  4. What does Gandhi’s quote have in common with the comments from individuals who lost loved ones in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks? How do these individuals seem to feel about vengeance?
  5. What, as a country, can we take away as “lessons learned” from the article “An Alternative to War”? Do wars bring peace more often than they bring continued violent conflict?
  6. After reading the text of President Obama’s address to the nation regarding the death of Osama bin Laden, what American values are communicated by his address? Do you agree or disagree with these values? If you were president, would you have written a different speech?
  7. If you had five minutes to speak directly to President Obama about the death of Osama bin Laden, what would you say? What would you say to the U.S. military? To individuals who lost loved ones in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks? To other countries who are viewing American reactions to the incident?


Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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