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Creative Acts of Revenge From History

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Well-thought-out acts of revenge can make quite a statement.

Well-thought-out acts of revenge can make quite a statement.

The old proverb says “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” In the heat of the moment, it might be tempting to lash out in anger, but how much more satisfying would it be to plot a reprisal with a cool and creative mind? Herewith, find a selection of wonderfully inventive ways of settling scores.

The croton plant can be used to create a powerful laxative.

The croton plant can be used to create a powerful laxative.

Norwegian Sardine Revenge

In 1940, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Norway. Quickly, a resistance force of Norwegians formed to carry out acts of sabotage and gather intelligence.

The Germans commandeered the entire Norwegian production of canned sardines to feed its soldiers of the Werhmacht and sailors of the Kriegsmarine. The hot-blooded response would have been to storm the canning plants and blow them up, but the Norwegians cooked up a subtler plan.

The resistance contacted the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), a group tasked with espionage, sabotage, and underground, black operations. Could the boffins of the SOE, asked the Norwegians, devise some sort of mighty laxative? Yes, they could, came the answer, followed by a shipment of croton oil.

The oil is made from the seeds of the croton plant, which is native to Indonesia and India, and it has a dramatic impact on the human digestive system.

The Germans got more than they bargained for when they commandeered Norway's sardine supply chain.

The Germans got more than they bargained for when they commandeered Norway's sardine supply chain.

The Norwegian resistance received the shipment and smuggled the croton oil into canning factories, where it was added to the vegetable oil in which the sardines were packed.

Most of the sardines were sent to feed the crews of submarines. U-boats had crews of between 25 and 50 men. The mind cannot grasp the monstrous scenes aboard a cramped, metal tube with three or four dozen men suffering from involuntary purging. Oh, the humanity.

Literary Revenge

The community of writers is filled with people who don’t get along; they snipe at one another, fire off insulting barbs, and trash talk enemies' works. It’s probably got something to do with fragile egos.

Richard Ford took a hot-tempered approach to settling a score he had with another writer. Alice Hoffman wrote an uncomplimentary review in The New York Times of Ford’s 1986 novel, The Sportswriter. Instead of firing off a smoking letter of complaint, Ford fired off a gun―through one of Hoffman’s novels. He then mailed the badly wounded remains to her.

Authors are known to try to get revenge on their critics—some in more subtle ways than others.

Authors are known to try to get revenge on their critics—some in more subtle ways than others.

Following a bad review of his 2004 novel State of Fear, Michael Crichton took a more nuanced approach to the counter punch. The reviewer who dissed Crichton’s work was Washington-based journalist Michael Crowley.

In 2006, Crichton published Next, in which a character called Mick Crowley is described as a child rapist with a very small penis. This is actually a legal device to head off possible libel actions because satirized men are very unlikely to claim that a fictional character with a tiny procreation tackle is them.

In this case, Crowley turned out to be the better man. He wrote in The New Republic, “If someone offers substantive criticism of an author, and the author responds by hitting below the belt, as it were, then he’s conceding that the critic has won.”

This billboard is certainly a standout example of creative revenge via public shaming.

This billboard is certainly a standout example of creative revenge via public shaming.

A Death Predicted

In the 18th century, John Partridge was a prominent astrologer who published almanacs based on his readings of the stars. In his 1708 almanac, Partridge made sarcastic remarks about the Church of England that got under the skin of Jonathan Swift.

The Anglo-Irish writer (Gulliver’s Travels, etc.) invented the character Isaac Bickerstaff to take on Partridge. Under the pseudonym, Swift published his own almanac in which he predicted Partridge’s death would occur on March 29, 1708.

After criticizing the church, Johnathan Partridge read of his own impending doom in a competing almanac.

After criticizing the church, Johnathan Partridge read of his own impending doom in a competing almanac.

The astrologer took the bait and called Bickerstaff a fake and a charlatan; “His whole Design” he wrote, “was nothing but Deceit/The End of March will plainly show the Cheat.” The public watched with glee as the feud escalated, all the time counting down the days to Partridge’s demise.

On the appointed day, Bickerstaff put out a pamphlet announcing Partridge’s death. He attended the dying man’s bedside, he said, and heard him confess to being a fraud.

Learning that he had expired from a fever, Partridge released a letter saying he was still very much alive. The two men traded increasingly poisonous communications until Swift admitted to the hoax. But, he had achieved his goal of discrediting Partridge; an act of revenge for the latter’s disrespect of the church.

A Cemetery on Your Property

Brigadier-General Montgomery Cunningham Meigs was tasked with provisioning the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was a staunch patriot who believed the Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis should be swinging at the ends of ropes. That was not to happen, but Meigs found another way of punishing one of the men he saw as a traitor.

The army was in need of a place to bury the mounting casualties of the war. The search for a suitable site ended in the estate attached to Arlington House across the Potomac River from Washington. The property belonged to a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, Mary Anna Custis, who added Lee to her name when she married the leader of the Confederate Army.

The site is now the Arlington National Cemetery, and General Meigs was buried there in 1892 with full military honours.

Bonus Factoids

  • In addition to infecting German submariners with explosive diarrhea, Norwegian saboteurs were able to sprinkle itching powder into condoms issued to the soldiers occupying their country.
  • Tired of telemarketers? Of course you are. Richard Herman in Britain hit back. In 2012, he told a company that was pestering him that in future he would charge the company £10 a minute to listen to their calls. The telemarketing didn’t stop, so he recorded the calls and sued for his money. The courts found that the callers had agreed to Herman's terms and awarded him £195.
  • A Florida man got tired of his next-door neighbour’s dog taking dumps in his yard. The neighbour ignored his complaints, so he picked up the turds and fired them back―into the neighbour’s swimming pool. The hound behaved itself after that.

Sources

  • “Norwegian Resistance.” Today in History, undated.
  • “25 Legendary Literary Feuds, Ranked.” Emily Temple, Literary Hub, February 16, 2018.
  • “Cock and Bull.” Michael Crowley, The New Republic, December 25, 2006.
  • “All Fools’ Day (1708): Jonathan Swift Kills off John Partridge.” The American Reader, undated.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor

Comments

JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on September 13, 2019:

Loved it! Great article.

Ann Carr from SW England on August 12, 2019:

Very entertaining! Revenge is so much better when it's thought about carefully.

Love the public shaming billboard and also the squirrel - enough to put him off without harm.

Ann