War, Peace and Historical Memory

David Rieff on Why It's Sometimes Better to Forget

May 27, 2016

You've heard the saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Journalist David Rieff thinks that's rubbish, and he says if you want peace, it's sometimes better to forget historical crimes than try to get justice.



I think Rieff makes an excellent and admittedly overlooked point that "remembering" doesn't necessarily lead to the sorts of outcomes people claim it can help to bring about, e.g. peace. But for me it doesn't follow from that that remembering is ever something to be avoided. It seems it's always useful if sometimes painful to know history as faithfully as is possible. For me it seems that problems arise not from remembering but from emotional attachments to "remedying" perceived injustices. The South African truth and reconciliation process provides a good example; it seems that the exercise wasn't to forget but to come to terms, in a livable manner, with a faithful remembrance.