Posted March 18, 2004
Book: Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Revenge
Author: Ellis Cose
Atria Books, New York, 212
An excerpt from Jacket:
In a world riven by conflict, reconciliation is not always possible — but it offers one of the few paths to peace for a troubled nation or a troubled soul. In Bone to Pick, Ellis Cose offers a provocative and wide-ranging discussion of the power of reconciliation, the efficacy of revenge, and the possibility of forgiveness.
People increasingly are searching for ways to put the demons of the past to rest. That search has led parents to seek out the murderers of their children and torture victims to confront their former tormentors. In a narrative drawing on the personal and dramatic stories of people from Texas to East Timor, Cose explores the limits and the promise of those encounters.
Bone to Pick is not only the story of victims who have found peace through confronting the source of their pain; it is also a profound meditation on how the past shapes the present, and how history’s wounds, left unattended, can fester for generations. Memories and anger can linger long beyond a human lifespan. The descendants of Holocaust survivors and African slaves alike feel the effects of their forebear’s pain — and in some cases are still demanding restitution.
What is behind the movement for reparations? Why are truth-and-reconciliation commissions sprouting all over the world? Why are old wars being refought and old wounds being reopened? In Bone to Pick Cose proves a moving and nuanced guide to such questions as he points the way toward a more harmonious world.
An excerpt from the book:
In “The Guilt of Nations”, historian Elazar Barkan observed, “The desire to redress the past is a growing trend, which touches our life at multiple levels, and it is central to our moral self-understanding as individuals and members of groups the world over. In a post-Cold War world w tend to pay increased attention to moral responsibility . . . No longer does the brute and immediate existential security need of the country form the sole legitimate justification or motive in formulating a foreign policy. Instead opposition to genocide, support for human rights, and the fear of being implicated in crimes against humanity (even by inaction) have become practical, not merely lofty, ideals. These ideals increasingly shape political decisions and the international scene.”
Amnesia is not an option, we increasingly are told. Because healing requires forgiveness, and forgiveness first requires remembering. As East Timor truth commissioner Isabel Amaral-Gueterres put it: “For some people, it may seem better to leave the past untouched. But the past does not go away and, if untreated, may eat away at those people and maybe even destroy them. Remembering is not easy, but forgetting may be impossible.”
At the first formal meeting of South Africa’s TRC, in December 1995, Chairman and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lectured his fellow commissioners” “They saw that those who suffer from amnesia, those who forget the past, are doomed to repeat it. It is not dealing with the past to say facilely, ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ For then they won’t be bygones. Our country, our society would be doomed to the instability of uncertainty — the uncertainty engendered by not knowing when yet another scandal of the past would hit the headlines, when another skeleton would be dragged out of the cupboard. We will be engaging in what should be a corporate nationwide process of healing through contrition, confession, and forgiveness. To be able to forgive one needs to know whom one is forgiving and why. That is why the truth is so central to this whole exercise.”
That observation was echoed by Roselina Tuyuc, founder of the National Association of Guatemalan Widows. “Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. First we need to know who to forgive . . . .And if we don’t manage to establish who was responsible, history may repeat itself,” she said in an interview published in The Unesco Courier.
In “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” Milan Kundera famously declared, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” And, more and more, people are taking those words to heart as they raise their voices and solemnly swear, “We will never forget!”
But as with all things of importance in life, the reality of remembering is complicated. It does not always work the way we like to believe it does. It certainly does not always follow what might be called the three truth commission commandments:
1. The truth can be discovered.
2. The truth can be agreed to.
3. The truth will, in some sense, set us free — free to reconcile with one another, free to imbibe the wisdom of experience so that never again will others have to endure what we went through.
Table of Contents:
1. Deciding to forgive
2. The unforgivable
3. Sweet revenge
4. Harmony out of chaos
5. Discharging a debt
6. Memory and truth
Epilogue: The Ghost in the Bunker, the Man in the Hole