Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence

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The rise of collective violence and genocide is the twentieth century's most terrible legacy. Martha Minow, a Harvard law professor and one of our most brilliant and humane legal minds, offers a landmark book on our attempts to heal after such large-scale tragedy. Writing with informed, searching prose of the extraordinary drama of the truth commissions in Argentina, East Germany, and most notably South Africa; war-crime prosecutions in Nuremberg and Bosnia; and reparations in America, Minow looks at the strategies and results of these riveting national experiments in justice and healing.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Skillfully explores what steps can be taken in the wake of mass atrocities. . . . Incisive and insightful. —Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor

"Compassionate and well-reasoned . . . Minow makes a convincing case for the restorative power of speaking about trauma." —Alexandra Starr, Washington Monthly

"A deeply humane and empathetic argument." —Alice Kessler-Harris, The Women's Review of Books

"Offers a remarkable analysis of a troublesome legacy." —Donald W. Shriver Jr., The Christian Century

"In taking a closer look at the social and historical roots of genocide and mass violence, Minow recognizes that justice is a process, not an end. Between Vengeance and Forgiveness is complicated, ambiguous, and deeply unsatisfying-exactly as it ought to be." —Nicholas Confessore, The American Prospect

Alexandra Starr
...[Minow] makes clear from the outset that any response to societal-level violence will be inadequate....The to negotiate a path between securing justice for victims and attempting to rebuild a society....different cultures and circumstances will dictate the most appropriate response....makes a compelling case for truth commissions over traditional judicial prosecutions. —The Washington Monthly
Mass murder, sanctioned torture and crimes against humanity invariably find a response in vengeful retaliation—a "get even" syndrome that perpetuates the cycle of mass violence and continued atrocities. But Martha Minow says human beings can transcend their instinct to reciprocal violence. Between Vengeance and Forgiveness is essentially a "turn the other cheek" solution. It demands almost saintly virtue from victims of atrocities and the wisdom of Solomon from world courts and public opinion. Minow, however, is quick to admit that forgiveness for mass atrocities is difficult, even unthinkable. "Who [indeed] can forgive the Holocaust? Rwandan genocide? Dismembered children in Sierra Leone? We are unable to forgive what [we] cannot punish and [we] are unable to punish what turns out to be unforgivable." In addition to an iron constitution and a strong dose of pious forbearance, Minow's prescription for recovery from crimes against humanity also requires "acknowledgement, apology and reparation" if the survivors of these atrocities are to overcome the "indifference that compounds victimization." South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] deals with the problem by employing mass therapy. The TRC demands confessions and apologies in return for "that lawful amnesia" called amnesty. With all its drawbacks, and there are many, this method so far has been successful in keeping the lid on the black population that has every reason to extract a terrible revenge for the years of suffering atrocities under apartheid. Other attempts to assuage victims of atrocities include Australia's "Sorry Day" in apology for past crimes against its aboriginal population and the U.S. payment of$25,000 each in reparations to the survivors of Japanese American families who lost everything because they were imprisoned during WW II. All attempts at restitution seem puny when measured against the enormity of these crimes. But "only when pain rooted in past harms was addressed, and only when there was justice could there be reconciliation and a foundation for hope and cooperation." Until recently the world has had no better solution for curbing mass atrocities or thwarting the tide of vengeance that follows them than the incantation of such biblical bromides as: "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" and "To err is human, to forgive divine." Unfortunately, only God can have it both ways. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students, and adults. 1998, Beacon Press, 214p, 22cm, notes, index, 98-26846, $14.00. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: William Kircher; Washington, DC, May 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 3)
Alexandra Starr
...[Minow] makes clear from the outset that any response to societal-level violence will be inadequate....The to negotiate a path between securing justice for victims and attempting to rebuild a society....different cultures and circumstances will dictate the most appropriate response....makes a compelling case for truth commissions over traditional judicial prosecutions. -- The Washington Monthly
Kirkus Reviews
A leading legal scholar's judicious examination of our varied reactions to mass violence and their relative potential for healing people and nations. From the Holocaust to apartheid South Africa and Rwanda, 20th-century collective violence has challenged societies to deal with the aftermath. And Minow (Law/Harvard; Not Only for Myself) makes her own significant contribution to this effort by sketching out a "lexicon of potential responses to collective violence." Through a series of chapters highlighting specific forms of responses in their historical contexts, she formalizes a vocabulary for assessing the ways in which society is able or unable to deal with irreversible loss (and the emotional damage caused by large-scale violence). First she contemplates the possibility of bridging reactions of vengeance and forgiveness, raising one of her central arguments: the healing power of therapy for victims, bystanders, and even offenders. In further chapters, she discusses the history of war-crimes prosecution, focusing on the complex legacies of the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials following WWII, and reparations, drawing on the case of the U.S. government and former Japanese-American internees. Minow's chapter on truth commissions proves to be the most engaging, given its timeliness amid the ongoing debates about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Citing the importance of direct personal narratives, she argues that when society prioritizes healing and the restoration of human dignity, a truth commission may serve better than a prosecution actually does. Her final chapter assesses the value of public monuments, educational programs, and amnesty. Some readers will feelfrustrated by Minow's admitted "resistance to tidiness" in drawing conclusions and by her rationalized tightrope walk between the extremes of idealism and cynicism.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807045077
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 11/1/1999
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 874,918
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha Minow is a professor of law at Harvard Law School. She is author of Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion and American Law and Not Only for Myself: Identity, Politics, and Law. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction 1
Ch. 2 Vengeance and Forgiveness 9
Ch. 3 Trials 25
Ch. 4 Truth Commissions 52
Ch. 5 Reparations 91
Ch. 6 Facing History 118
Notes 148
Acknowledgments 200
Index 203
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