Friday, August 04, 2006


Confronting Our Own Histories

Now where did I find this posting? It certainly fits in with talking about the chaos of the middle east and the way victims become abusers and then create more victims. It says, better than I did, that the past doesn’t go away: it stays with us, within us. It festers like an untreated infection.

It’s called “Intergenerational Trauma.” Indian Nations in Canada and the U.S. are beginning to deal with it. Euro-Americans tend to either poo-poo it as a do-gooder theory, or claim to be immune to it. All very well and good for lesser races to have it, but we’ve transcended that—Now who the hell left that goddam tricycle where I’d run over it? Goddamit, it's all your fault!

For better or for worse, here’s the posting:

David Friedlander responds to reader Karen White:

”Karen White's comments, I think, raises issues of how we engage with the past She certainly has a point that Jews under 70 years old have not personally experienced Nazi abuse. But I think it is all too easy to imagine that the effects of abuse end with a single generation. The children of WWII survivors (I reject the term "holocaust" for its ahistorical and otherworldly connotations) grew up in a home environment completely colored by this tragedy. They are scarred by the genocide even if they did not personally experience it. I speak from personal experience, being such a descendant myself. In many cases -- not mine, fortunately -- these people experienced abuse at home as well.

America is largely a country of immigrants and the dominant story here is that those who came here left the past behind, looking to a better future free of their negative history. It is, perhaps, natural that our culture, tends to downplay history. "The past" is not relevant to "now," -- or even more important "the future."

But as William Faulkner said of the South, "the past is not forgotten -- in fact, the past is not even past." It could not be more erroneous to believe that the effects of genocide, slavery, colonialism, torture etc. are erased in one generation. Indeed, I am convinced that not only the Jews but many other peoples who have been exposed to violence, slavery and abuse generations ago still bear the psychological scars today. This, incidentally, applies to the descendants of the victims, but also in many cases to those of the perpetrators as well.
Historical crimes thus cast very long shadows, far longer than we like to contemplate. Imagine, then, the true cost of the atrocities being committed by Israel today. Generations of the distant future -- Israelis, Arabs and everywhere else -- will still be paying the price for today's bombings invasions and targeted assassinations long after the names of today's aggressors and victims have been forgotten.

By the same token, though, denial of the past will only worsen the problems of the present. We dearly wish that the Israelis, who have every reason to understand and oppose such atrocities, would find their senses and their voices and stop this murderous and suicidal push to violence. To do this the Israelis will need to deconstruct history as written by their leaders and confront powerful external interests who find their aggressive impulses very useful.

If and when this change happens, it will require a constructive engagement with history; Israelis of conscience have been doing this. Denial of history though, however well-meaning, can not move things ahead. Those who expect the Israelis -- or anyone else -- to simply step out of their skins and get with the program are destined to be sorely disappointed. In the meantime, Americans have plenty to do to change the course of our own country in promoting the new "holocaust" being perpetrated in the Middle East.

Similarly, Ms. White objects to the American "holocaust" museums on grounds of cost and because they fail to promote the golden rule sufficiently. I think the trouble with the "holocaust" museums in the US is quite different. These museums are a cheap substitute for confronting American history and they are tainted with "victor's justice". All German towns should have holocaust museums exploring their own painful history. Of course they don't. But we should ask, how many US cities have museums showing our history of slavery or the extermination of the Indians, to name just two overripe candidates? These would be signs of a constructive engagement with our own history.

Excelllent points raised, Pete. As a lover of history, I fully agree. In fact, try googling the word 'lynching' under Google Images. As I reviewed them, I was struck by how many were NOT in the South.... thereby disturbing the status quo notions of regional superiority.
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