Truth and Reconciliation

Shall We Ignore the Recent Past – Or Does America Need Some Form of ‘Truth Commission’?

What do you do when it’s over?

One of the problems left by an authoritarian or extensively dishonest and illegal regime is this – how much do we need to talk about or otherwise “deal with” such misbehavior once the national power balances have changed?

Remember what Gerald Ford said when he became President after Nixon resigned? “Our long national nightmare is over.” Unfortunately it wasn’t. The illegalities and other offenses were swept under one of history’s bigger rugs; but the bulge remained to haunt us. It seems those same attitudes and behaviors have revisited us more than once since then, often brought to us by the same persons, politically resurrected.

That’s what we should expect.

Gladstone said, “Justice delayed is justice denied,” which is almost always true. Then Robert Kennedy enlarged on the idea with “Justice delayed is democracy denied.” That’s starting to make lack of justice look like a pretty expensive proposition for all of us.

True, a lot of Congressmembers and even some Senators have faced legal blowback for their misdeeds over the last few years. But is that enough? How much more needs to be done along those lines?

The Tension Between the Public’s Hunger for Truth and the Desire of Powerful Interests to Hide It

Priscilla Hayner has written a very valuable study of “truth commissions” in a number of countries around the world over the last few decades. Referring to an earlier study, she says

the authors … note a difficult tension between the desire to bury the past, in order to avoid provoking the ire of powerful wrongdoers, and the ethical and political demands to confront the crimes of the prior regime.

Quoting a book called Transitions From Authoritarian Rule, Hayner emphasizes the necessity of dealing honestly with unpleasant periods in a nation’s history. (Quotes are from Unspeakable Truths: Facing The Challenge of Truth Commissions, p10.)

This dilemma is

one of immense difficulty … that simply cannot be avoided … the worst of bad solutions would be to try to ignore the issue.

So Which Route Should The US Take?

We Americans ignored a lot of high level illegality and wrongdoing in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. And now we have much more of it. If you sweep living messes under the rug, they grow and multiply. I believe that this time there needs to be thorough public acknowledgment of what has gone on, and key figures need to be held responsible for their activities.

Unfortunately, that seems unlikely at present. Even many powerful Democrats seem committed to helping the Administration and its corporate accomplices escape without justice – as in the current mini-fight over granting immunity to telecom companies (FISA) for lawbreaking in cooperation with White House lawbreaking. This rush to cover up for more or less everybody will surely not serve us well in years to come!

If we go that route, we stay on the same stupid and deadly merry-go-round.

When justice is done,
it brings joy to the righteous
but terror to evildoers. – Proverbs 21:15

It might be a very good thing to bring some joy to the righteous – whoever they are, they deserve it. And maybe it’s time for some evildoers to feel a little fear along with their comfort, power, arrogance, and successes.

Do not spread false reports.
Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.
Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong

Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits…
Do not accept a bribe,
for a bribe blinds those who see. – Exodus 23:1-8

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