‘Forgiving and forgetting’

In Australia, and elsewhere, there is a new catchcry: reconciliation, a call to the offended to ‘forgive and forget’, to ‘move on’. No one is willing to discuss what victim groups must move on from. If the politics of remembering the feuds, the hatreds, and the differences produced cataclysmic deaths, then surely, they say, it must be replaced with an ideology of forgiving and forgetting.

There are, as I wrote elsewhere,[13] costs in this new fashion, costs to the victims, whether Armenian, Jewish or Aboriginal. It is they who must forgo the desire or deny their need for retributive justice. It is they who must eschew notions of guilt and atonement and, all too often, forgo compensation for harms done. It is they who must agree to the diminution, or even abolition, of that shared historical memory which holds victim groups together. It is they who must concur in the substitution of their memory by our memory and their history by our history. The Forrest River massacres were not massacres—or so we are told—and the places of such events are of no moment, let alone veneration. But Gallipoli—where thousands of young Australians were senselessly mown down in their thousands—is officially ‘a sacred site’, a shrine to our birth as a nation. The victims must connive at ignoring the importance of accountability for the crimes committed against them, and it is they who must agree to the obliteration of that responsibility. It is they who must cease reacting so hysterically against denialism, that major tributary of forgetting, which claims that there was nothing to remember in the first place. Such is the profanity of their being asked to ‘move on’.