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Monday, September 07, 2015

Memory and Victimhood

BBC Radio Ulster - Everyday Ethics, The Crisis in Tunisia, Pope Francis' Encyclical and The Ethics of Memory

Baroness Onora O'Neill, former Principal of Newham College, Cambridge and current chair of the UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission:

3 of my 4 grandparents were in one sort of uniform or another in the first war and they did not talk about it.

And the thing is if you've seen very dreadful and horrible things you don't want to burden the next generation. So this, what is called recovery actually faces quite a lot of barrier at the start because people have deliberately kept extremely quiet, not necessarily because they did dreadful things of which they are ashamed, but because they feel responsibility not to burden the future. And that's why there's a sort of archaeology to finding out even a question that sounds simple like "who were the victims".

Well, there's a lot of archaeology and again you have to wonder whether that coveted label of victim isn't itself a little bit difficult because people want to think, "Ooh, I was a victim, my lot were victims" whereas actually a pretty widespread role...

The Germans have, after all, a terrible past to remember and part of what they've done, which has, I think, proved fruitful is to encourage people to ask the question. Not: what did I suffer, what did my family suffer, what is our narrative of victimhood?

But what did we do? What did we perpetrate? Whom did did we, whatever it was: kill, drive off their land, drive into emigration and, of course, that is the reason for the Germans' thinking of memory as very much as terrible warning of what happens and they're not forgetting at all but what they're seeking to remember - ask the question: not, so to speak, what did we suffer, but what did we do?
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