Breaking the Cycles of Hatred: Memory, Law, and Repair

By Martha Minow; Nancy L. Rosenblum | Go to book overview

2
Justice and the Experience of Injustice*

NANCY L. ROSENBLUM

But examine the passions and feelings of mankind. Bring the
doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature, and then
tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honour, and faithfully
serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land?
… But if you say you can still pass the violations over, then I
ask, Hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been
destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute
of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or
a child by their hands, and yourself the ruined and wretched
survivor? If you have not, then are you not a judge of those
who have…. I mean not to exhibit horror for the purpose of
provoking revenge, but to awaken us from fatal and unmanly
slumbers, that we may pursue determinately some fixed object.

—THOMAS PAINE, Common Sense1

No natural law guarantees that time heals all wounds. The cycle of hatred is a destructive dynamic set in motion by the memory of past harms. To be sure, collective memories sometimes demoralize victims of injustice and dampen the desire for revenge. If past experiences are mainly ones of vulnerability and defeat, memories may inhibit action and weaken resolve—Tom Paine’s “fatal and unmanly slumbers.” But even “lost causes,” recalled in a certain spirit, can strengthen solidarity and arouse people to retaliate. Memories of domination, violence, and humiliation, and stories of a shared fate, are cultivated and sustained by groups. They are inflamed and manipulated by ambitious leaders with an interest in mobilizing victims and those who identify with them to

* I owe thanks to my friend and critic Susan M. Okin for her challenging comments, to Avi
Soifer for his thoughtful suggestions, and to Ionnis Evrigens for his able research
assistance.

-77-

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