I have to admit, when I first started reading, ‘Breaking the Silence’, where the writer details the effort put into documenting the genocide after uncovering government records, my first thought was, How futile this all seems. All this effort — in documenting and writing about an atrocity, and yet where was this expense of energy when the genocide was going on? I know there is an answer to this that’s obviously very rational, but it left me wondering, what’s the point? How does it erase what happened, or provide a feeling justice?
But reading further, I understood the important of war memories. In the case of Guatemala, the need to document and remember, is particularly urgent as the perpetuators have not been punished. Not only that — but it is used as an excuse, a reason to cite when describing Guatemala as having a ‘culture of violence’.
By attributing Guatemala’s experience to an ingrained culture of violence, “power continuity and structural inequality go undetected. Like all ‘post war crime’, socialized violence has been given room to fester because of conditions of impunity.” (page 15) This for me was the most fascinating point. By blaming the victim, you remove all responsibility from those in power and who continue to support a system that perpetuates violence and repression. (page 16)
This brought to my mind, the situation of African Americans in the U.S. To what extent can we related violence among African American communities today, to a system that was borne of violence (slavery), and which today, continues to perpetuate violence? To what extent is the black population blamed for its ‘problems’?
“Creating meaningful and sustainable peace requires critically confronting violent pasts” (page 16). To what extent has the US TRULY confronted its slavery past? An incredible article worth reading: The Case for Reparations
In contrast, how much documentation and work has gone into remembering the Holocaust? Slogans of ‘Never again’, persecuting and blacklisting Holocaust-deniers, museum after museum, a perpetual victim mentality — but what have we as a human race learnt from this? Never again, and yet it happens again and again, and in the case of Israel, the victim has today become the bully. So what is the real value in remembering? What is the value of history, when we don’t learn from it?
Reading this also brings to mind the case of Rwanda. The way they have ‘dealt’ with the genocide has been through ‘forgiveness’ — today, genocide perpetrators live side by side with the people whose families they butchered. Have they truly confronted their past? And are people genuinely forgiving? This series of photographs, entitled Portraits of Reconciliation, by Pieter Hugo is really interesting. In my opinion, I do not see forgiveness. I see grudging acceptance. I’d love to look through these photos tomorrow with the class and discuss your thoughts on this.