Wednesday 18 January 2012

Erna Paris, Long Shadows

erna paris long shadows: truth, lies and history

Oh my, ain't this book important!  Long Shadows is another title that I would recommend to be a part of school curriculum everywhere in the world.  But let me explain.

Erna Paris looks at some atrocious genocides perpetrated during the twentieth century:  Holocaust, apartheid, Yugoslavian conflicts, Rwanda massacres and some aspects of WWII.  She follows with examination of how nations as a whole and individuals react to such painful history, notwithstanding cases where the history itself is being re-forged to suit needs of whoever is in charge in a given place at given time.  She philosophically explores meaning of truth, of justice and other similar fine ideas and tries to confront it with often grim realities.  Important.  Powerful.  I wonder if also - meaningless?

It may be my own cynicism talking here, but I'm not sure if books such as Long Shadows can have any actual meaning.  I, too, can ponder problems of cruelty and injustice till the cows come home, and I can come to absolutely any conclusion using different arguments, but will it change a thing?  I did like the author's reporting style, I liked format of her book - interviews with many people from both sides of conflicts, with big fish and everymen on the street, I liked her going to the actual places with history of suffering to see the painful souvenirs with her own eyes.  My problem, though, is this:  souvenirs of pain are something very different to the pain itself.  I do not believe in functionality of museums, memorials, monuments and the likes.  I think it is easy to say what a bad thing genocide is if you never ever experienced this fear, if you never trembled for your own life.  It is easy to preach inspired messages about conciliation if it is not your child who has been killed, maimed, hurt in mindless conflict.  Long Shadows lacks anger, lacks frustration of the truly voiceless ones.  I fear that armed conflicts around the world will never become less deadly unless this frustration is addressed - and yes, I am aware that it is easier said than done. 

Maybe I'm being too cruel.  Maybe I should simply glorify Long Shadows for an attempt to make our history less brutal, for bringing knowledge, information, focus.  The book is brimming with data (not being a historian, I'm not able to say definitely if the information is objective, but it looks quite believable), with names, with figures and I respect that.  There is no denying of very humanitarian spirit permeating the narrative, of deep desire to make the world a better place, to relieve suffering and do something, and this desire deserves to be praised.  Yet, I am also painfully aware that it is easy to preach from the place of comfort and to condemn those, who end up in not-so-noble light because fear, pain or anger dictated their actions. 

I still stick to my opinion that kids at schools should read Long Shadows.  Maybe humanitarian values CAN be taught, maybe it is only my imperfect soul that asks inconvenient questions, maybe the world CAN be made a better place. 

It surely needs it - and this is the main message that stayed with me after Long Shadows.

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