Nations or groups sometimes act in irresponsible and horrible ways. At the time, the bizarre behavior may have looked and felt appropriate. In each case, however, the verdict of history has been the opposite.
These random thoughts came to mind as I was exploring Zentralfriedhof, the central cemetery of Vienna, a few weeks ago. A beautifully landscaped oasis in the middle of the city, it is the final resting place of giants of arts and science.
While the likes of Strauss, Beethoven, Billroth, Mozart, and many others were there, one giant of science was missing: Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry and psychoanalysis.
Despite his monumental insights in the field, he was forced to leave Vienna for London in 1938 because he was a Jew. He died there the following year.
Germany has taken responsibility for the Holocaust, has tendered an apology, and has paid financial reparations to Holocaust victims and their families. That is not enough by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a sincere effort to make up in some small way for the unfathomable crimes of the Nazi regime.
In America, almost 150 years after the end of slavery, the U.S. Senate apologized to African Americans. While such mea culpas have no real effect on destroyed or distorted lives, this one had the effect of soothing deep-seated resentment against white America.
Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton apologized for America’s history of slavery, but they did not satisfy many people. To conservatives, the presidents went too far; to liberals, not far enough.
In Africa in April, 1998, I watched President Clinton apologize on behalf of the U.S. government. I saw the tears of satisfaction in the eyes of many blacks who were in attendance.
Around the world, issues still fester as if they happened in the recent past, even though centuries have passed.
Starting in 1915 and through World War I, more than 1 million Armenians lost their lives because of forced marches by Ottoman Turks. The Turks have denied genocide, but the weight of evidence is against them.
Instead of rigid denial, why not accept it? It may not have been a clear-cut policy of the Ottoman rulers to exterminate Armenian citizens of Turkey, but it did happen.
In the aftermath of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, a reign of terror was let loose against people of both countries. Hindus and Sikhs ran for India from Pakistan. Muslims ran from India toward Pakistan across the newly created borders.
One million people were put to the sword, men, women, and children. Another 10 million people were forced to leave their ancient lands and homes for a country they had no attachment to.
There are different narratives of partition in India and Pakistan. Does it really matter who fired the first shot or stabbed the first victim? The cumulative evidence suggests that followers of all three religions were complicit in the crimes.
Sixty-six years later, the people of India and Pakistan have not come to terms with their history. Perhaps a monument should be erected at the only land crossing between India and Pakistan.
The monument should show a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Sikh with their heads bowed in shame, declaring their regret at being so inhuman to each other. My proposal for such a monument to the Rotary Club of Amritsar, India, in 2006 was greeted with silence.
Many other unresolved issues in the world continue to cause friction and discontent, such as the Japanese atrocities against the Chinese and Koreans during World War II, and the conduct of Pakistan’s army when East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh.
Man is capable of extreme cruelty toward other humans. History is replete with examples. The only way we could prevent such things from happening again is to force the perpetrators to come clean. If a nation or a group confronts its dark past, we may have the makings of a civilized people.
National pride and fragile egos prevent many nations from coming to terms with their ugly past. The retort that the current rulers are not responsible for the excesses of their predecessors just does not wash.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org