Sunday, January 17, 2010


Until We Try

Truth commissions, be they in South Africa, Canada, or Guatemala, are fraught with difficulties, as emotional traumas and crimes against humanity are exposed and examined in public. Asymmetrical power -- as both the root cause of atrocities and the source of distrust in reconciliation -- is never more evident than when the most vulnerable accuse the least generous.

Given this tense situation, memories and testimonies are suspect, apologies and sincerity questionable. Media often seeks out the most bizarre, victims sometimes imagine unprovable horrors, the accused always try to control how much is exposed, the public largely resents the moral intrusion into their innocent psyches; it is not a pleasant process.

Yet, it is a necessary step toward resolution, and while it can present unforeseen dangers, it allows for better understanding that is required for social cohesion and cooperation on essential future initiatives. Distorting the past only ensures endless conflict.

While there is much to criticize about the Canadian truth commission process, they have at least begun. Maybe someday the people of the United States will get around to telling the truth about their history. When that happens, perhaps the two North American neighbors can resolve their objections to supporting human rights for Indigenous peoples worldwide.

As two of the three pariah states obstructing those rights at the UN, a change of heart by Canada and the US might help other states to walk the talk of equality, liberty and fraternity. We'll never know until we try.


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