Saturday, April 12, 2008

Falling Down a Rabbit Hole

Historian Tony Judt's article in this week's New York Review of Books is quite good. It's about the problem of historical memory at present, particularly relating to the twentieth century, and particularly relating to the United States.

He argues that while we remember certain groups through memorialization and museums, we lack a more generalized narrative of continuity to the twentieth century and the post-9/11 world.

Judt has an excellent analysis of the linguistic and historical problems of the terms "Islamofascism" and "terrorism," the problem of torture, and our practice of memorializing . . . he concludes:

"We are slipping down a slope. The sophistic distinctions we draw today in our war on terror—between the rule of law and 'exceptional' circumstances, between citizens (who have rights and legal protections) and noncitizens to whom anything can be done, between normal people and 'terrorists,' between 'us' and 'them' —are not new. The twentieth century saw them all invoked. They are the selfsame distinctions that licensed the worst horrors of the recent past: internment camps, deportation, torture, and murder—those very crimes that prompt us to murmur 'never again.' So what exactly is it that we think we have learned from the past? Of what possible use is our self-righteous cult of memory and memorials if the United States can build its very own internment camp and torture people there?"

I also think that the point he makes that winners and losers alike, during war, suffer consequences. This is the reporting done by the assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya concerning Russian soldiers in Chechnya. This is what pushes Fanon to write that the colonizer is as psychologically disturbed as the colonized. Reading about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam this past week, my students sympathized enormously with the American soldiers put into the situation and told to "search and destroy." How our our current wars affecting us now?

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