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Donald W. Shriver, Jr. on America and Its Past

"Truth Commissions and Judicial Trials" in The Provocations of Amnesty (New Africa Books: 2003) p. 86-7.

Ominously for some Euro-Americans, analogous discussions are now gathering in the United States. We are not done with the evil legacy of Euro-American treatment of African slaves and native Indians. How a future-oriented culture such as America’s gets propelled into serious moral re-examination of the dark sides of its history is a subject worthy of much future consultation between historians, social scientists, and theological ethicists in America. Already the ferment of new visits to our own ignoble versions of administrative massacres may signal a new openness in our culture to hearing the simmering angry memories of those whose ancestors suffered those events. As he left Atlanta recently to return to South Africa, Desmond Tutu remarked, ‘The United States needs a truth and reconciliation commission.’ African Americans and Native Americans are likely to agree; but, as both the histories of trials and truth commissions described in this essay vividly suggests, every country, with its unique history, must craft its own unique way of reckoning with that history. No one measure will suffice for the making and remaking of a public conscience. Installing negative history in public memory is a multi-dimensional project that has to circle back again and again to old facts from new perspectives.