A Personal Reflection
Why This Topic Now?
Reconciliation Defined
Between Vengeance and Forgiveness
Strategies of Accountability
How Nations Make Peace
A Personal Reflection

One of my favorite places is in my hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts - just about 20 miles north and east of where we now sit. When you drive into town, you are greeted by a big blue sign saying, "Welcome to Marblehead: Birthplace of the American Navy." In 1775, General George Washington commissioned the first ship in the Continental Navy, the Hannah - a local ship manned by Marblehead fishermen. Marbleheaders, always a fiercely independent group, were enthusiastic revolutionaries. I am sure you all know the famous scene of Washington crossing the Delaware River. You cannot grow up in Marblehead without knowing that it was Marbleheaders at the oars ferrying Washington across the icy Delaware.

If you go to Marblehead, you might take the walking tour, which will lead you to Old Burial Hill. The Hill provides a dramatic vista that includes picturesque Marblehead Harbor and the long rocky coastline stretching north to Gloucester and Cape Ann. It was here during the War of 1812 that the U.S.S. Constitution - Old Ironsides - sought refuge from British ships, hugging the shore under the protective guns of Fort Sewall that guards the mouth of Marblehead Harbor. At the critical moment of the chase, the gunners at Fort Sewall fired one cannon round at the British pursuers while Old Ironsides tacked away, and the pursuers fled fearing the reach of the shore cannons. It was a good thing for the Americans that the British were so easily scared off. As the legend has it, the Marbleheaders had only the one round in their arsenal.

Old Burial Hill holds the remains of hundreds of early settlers, including a victim of the infamous Salem witch trials, an early African-American immigrant, numerous ministers and merchants, and several revolutionary war heroes including the well-known General John Glover. At the very top of the hill, there is a large marker in the shape of an obelisk commemorating the heroism of Captain James Mugford. It reads:

Captain James Mugford
born Marblehead
May 19, 1749
May 19, 1776
While successfully defending his vessel
against 13 boats and 200 men from the British Fleet
Erected May, 17, 1876

A Tribute of Marblehead to the memory of the brave Captain Mugford and his crew who in the schooner Franklin of 60 tons and four 4 pounders, May 17, 1776 under the guns of the British Fleet captured and carried into Boston the transport Hope, 300 tons and 10 tons, loaded with munitions of war, including 1,500 barrels of powder.

Now why, might you ask, am I giving you this lesson in local history? What does this lovely tour have to do with our topic for the day, "Making Peace: Dilemmas of Reconciliation?"

To make peace and to reconcile, the first obstacle is the past - sometimes a difficult past, a past filled with atrocity, violence, outrageous injustice, and sadness. Rather than heroism, the more likely legacy one is confronted with is oppression and destruction. But think carefully about the monument I just described. There are many symbolically important facts associated with it: the poignancy of the death of a young man on his 27th birthday, the bravery evident in his heroic confrontation with the mighty British navy, the gratitude of a small town for the sacrifice of one of its sons. But perhaps the most important fact is the one obscured in the middle of the text - the date of its erection: 1876. Eighteen seventy-six was of course the centennial anniversary of Mugford's death and the Declaration of Independence. It was also just eleven years since the end of American Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In 1876, the still young American nation was searching for a usable past upon which to build its future. American identity was very much in doubt. Without calling into question the story of Captain Mugford himself, we might conclude that the erection of the monument also served an additional communal purpose by providing the identity and sense of purpose much needed in the wake of the convulsive Civil War.

So as I begin my more analytical remarks, I just want to take this moment to encourage you to reflect upon your own experiences, your own encounters with the past. Think about places, monuments, and celebrations that are important to you. Do they lift you up, annoy you, or offend you? What happens in the translation of history to memory and commemoration? What can we learn from this kind of analysis? The American Civil War is but one example of how history is interpreted and reinterpreted. While lessons learned did indeed differ from north to south and from location to location, vengeance was put aside, amnesties were granted, and generally speaking, the nation moved ahead, however slowly and painfully. How should we think about the aftermath of war? How do we balance the claims of justice and forgiveness? Why This Topic Now?

The twentieth century was the century of mass murder. The signature phrase for the decade of the 1990s was "ethnic cleansing." For a century that began with such promise - with the dreams of peace advocates like Andrew Carnegie - it concluded with bitterness and an abundance of hatred in many areas. Perhaps it was this very dissatisfaction that led to a century's end reckoning, a mania for moral accounting.

It is hard to say with any precision what set this phenomenon into motion. Perhaps it was the natural reaction of a world community looking back on the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Or perhaps it was the logical fruition of fifty years worth of international human rights advocacy suddenly reaching a critical mass. Whatever the reason, the empirical evidence of this trend toward moral accounting is undeniable. Consider the following:

  • Canada's settlements with aboriginal peoples (establishing the Nunavut nation).
  • Australia's ongoing reconciliation efforts with its aboriginal peoples.
  • Mexico's establishment of a new national commission (under its new national government) to write a new official history of modern Mexico.
  • Japan's apologies for World War II atrocities, particularly toward China and Korea.
  • German government and industry initiatives to provide restitution for victims of the Nazi regime.
  • Switzerland's efforts to address the issue of "Nazi gold," as well as a reassessment of the Swiss role in World War II.
  • Pope John Paul II's Jubilee theme in the year 2000 of reconciliation between faiths, with special emphasis on forgiveness for historical anti-Semitism within official church teaching and policy.
  • Efforts within East Germany, Poland, the Baltic states, and other post-communist societies to address grievances of authoritarian rule.
  • The advent of several Truth and Reconciliation commissions—most notably in South Africa, Nigeria, Guatemala, Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America—to deal with crimes of past regimes.
  • President Clinton's commission on race relations within the United States, and discussions of reparations for slavery.
  • The convening of several international tribunals for war criminals (Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia), as well as the founding of the first International Criminal Court (ICC) to handle future cases such as the current prosecution of former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet.

These disparate examples all share a common characteristic: each represents a society or group attempting to reckon with injustices of past. At one level, these reckonings can be explained as a logical extension of the suddenly mature human rights movement. At another level, something new seems to be going on. We can classify this activity into three categories:

  1. post-conflict societies, e.g. Cambodia, Rwanda (immediate aftermath of acute conflict)
  2. societies in transition, e.g. Latin American states, South Africa, Indonesia, Nigeria
  3. mature democracies, e.g. United States, Germany, Japan, Switzerland

In category #1, the need for reckoning and healing is unavoidable. Egregious crimes have been committed (often on a large scale) and the demands of justice must be faced. Yet even this most simple category raises all sorts of questions regarding the sometimes conflicting demands of peace and justice. What to do with those who are accountable? Should domestic courts, ad hoc international tribunals, or a standing international criminal court try perpetrators? Are these options merely a recipe for some form of victor's justice? When, for the sake of closure and stability, should perpetrators be granted amnesty? For example, can one argue for amnesty for Slobodan Milosevic if granting such an amnesty will help to end the conflict in Kosovo, Bosnia, and within the former Yugoslavia? When does pursuing the perpetrator make sense in terms of the pursuit of much needed justice, and when does it cross the line to becoming an end in itself and the cause for even more conflict?

Category #2 - societies in transition - refers to all of the countries in the post-communist phase of their evolution, as well as those evolving away from authoritarian pasts. These countries, ranging from apartheid South Africa to the military dictatorships of South America to post-communist Europe, are all societies in transition - transitioning from anti-democratic to democratic status. Again one sees the competing claims of peace and justice. While many victims and human rights activists seek vigorous prosecution against those who wielded brutal state power under the old regimes, others see the need to manage the transition to democracy smoothly and caution against overly zealous prosecution.

Category #3 - mature democracies - is perhaps the least studied and least urgent. In many cases, the wrongs that are discussed are distant, the remedies not so clear. And yet, it seems that mature democracies seek reconciliation with their own pasts, as well as with the victims such as they remain. Perhaps it is inevitable that all societies, no matter how democratic or mature, must understand their past in order to move ahead. All societies are built on a history, a culture, and a set of principles. This history, culture, and ethos is subject to constant re-thinking and re-evaluation.

One may also want to classify this activity in terms of actors. That is, we see reconciliation on three separate societal levels:

  1. reconciliation between peoples—the paradigmatic examples being blacks and whites in South Africa, or African-Americans and the white majority in the United States, for that matter;
  2. reconciliation between nations—Germany and the United States after World War II; AND
  3. reconciliation between faiths—Hindu-Muslim relations, Catholic-Jewish relations, etc.

It is important to specify the social context within which we speak about reconciliation. Actions across national lines will necessarily differ from those within a single nation. Non-state actors such as religious groups or businesses (in the cases of the Swiss banks, German, and Japanese industries during WWII) will of course have a different perspective and a different range of options.

To answer the question "why now?" two facts are inescapable. First, the end of the Cold War unleashed a new wave of democratization. While it may not have been the "end of history" as Hegel or Francis Fukuyama suggest, it was an undeniable political force. Transitioning to democracy requires a reckoning with the past - a reckoning with the illiberal forces that have shaped so much of our collective existence in the past 100 years. Second, the end of the Cold War also unleashed a new wave of globalization, aided and abetted by technologies that have changed our very concepts of time, space, and mobility. The trend toward moral accounting may very well be a result of the trend toward economic, social and cultural integration we see in the trends of increasing democratic government and globalization. Reconciliation Defined

At first glance, the concept of reconciliation seems simple. Standard definitions include references to coexistence, mutual respect, healing and harmony. Yet if the conception of reconciliation is to have any currency in the policy world, we must be more precise. I suggest three levels meaning for the verb "to reconcile."

  1. To bring into acquiescence; grudging acceptance; tolerance; resignation. "I reconcile myself to the fact that I will never play baseball for the Boston Red Sox."
  2. To settle; to bring into agreement; accommodate. "I am delighted that we were able to negotiate and to reconcile our differences amicably."
  3. To become friends again after estrangement; re-bonding; absolution. "After many years pursuing different jobs, the partners reconciled and opened a new business together."

These very different interpretations of reconciliation are crucial to understanding the possibilities and the limitations of the concept. All too often in the policy making arena, this concept is not disaggregated.

Let's look at an example. In the current negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, what sort of an agreement is desirable, and what sort of an agreement is possible? Stated another way, what sort of reconciliation is desirable, and what sort of reconciliation is possible? It could be helpful to use the metaphor here of marriage and divorce. Both are, in effect, agreements. Shimon Peres, the architect of peace process from the Israeli side, sees an eventual and inevitable reconciliation like #3 listed above - a re-bonding, an absolution. This sort of reconciliation would be a true marriage, where both partners would be fulfilled through mutual interest, mutual cooperation. In this view, Israel/Palestine would become the Singapore of the Mediterranean, a first world economy in an impoverished Middle East, well positioned to bring the benefits of global capital and global technology to the region. Ariel Sharon and the right-wingers in Israel would prefer a divorce. The best agreement from their point of view would be for both sides to agree to separate, to go their own way. An amicable separation would of course be helpful, but not necessary. They have reconciled themselves to the fact that peaceful coexistence is likely to be a minimalist affair. Between Vengeance and Forgiveness

The human desire for reconciliation and peace almost inevitably collides with the equally human desire for justice. While forgiveness remains an essential part of many religious faiths (especially the Christian faith), there are countervailing moral imperatives to seek justice and to punish wrongdoers. Some argue that from a moral perspective, it is not appropriate to "forgive and forget." Victims are owed justice, and the memory of those victimized deserves to be honored and remembered. For those of us committed to the peaceful resolution of conflict where possible, we confront the problem of how to coordinate the desire for reconciliation with the need for retribution - factoring in at all times the overriding social goal of promoting stability. Remember, many of the examples we refer to come out of war-torn societies were wounds are fresh, passions are inflamed, and new governments (many of them newly democratic) are wobbly at best.

To look at this issue of balancing justice, retribution, and stability, let us look analytically at some terms.

  • Revenge—the desire for retaliation acted on without the benefit of adjudication; tends to be excessive and often promotes a cycle of reprisals.
  • Retributive justice—seeks to punish in proportion to the crime; it views crime as impersonal, as against the state; the state is the prosecutor and punisher.
  • Restorative justice—focuses on the interpersonal nature and the needs to make amends.
  • Forgiveness—to pardon or absolve; to relieve of payment.

In the title of her book, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, Martha Minow suggests the need to balance between natural human emotions. Why not vengeance? Vengeance is usually counterproductive. Why not forgiveness? Well, forgiveness itself is not ruled out, but it requires certain actions by perpetrators so that justice is served. Among the requirements are acknowledgement of wrongdoing, apology on the part of the perpetrator, and some expression of remorse. Thinking of the Holocaust and the victims of political tyranny around the world (the disappeared in Latin America, the persecuted in the former communist states), Minow raises the difficult question of who should forgive? Injustices must be confronted for what they are, and perhaps only victims themselves can offer forgiveness. Even then, forgiveness may be too much to ask as a matter of course; perhaps it can only be a gift of those who have the willingness to give it.

As you can see, there are not only philosophical issues here, but also psychological, religious, and political ones. There is both individual and group psychology at work here; we are often talking about individuals and societies who have been traumatized, and medical analogies may be entirely appropriate. It may be reasonable to ask what therapies are needed for both individuals and for the collective group. We are also talking about how to move forward politically. Essentially, the question is how should one deal with a difficult past in a way that acknowledges it and deals with it fairly while also promoting stability and future positive growth? Strategies of Accountability

The "forgive and forget" model has been discredited. As one commentator has put it, "forgiveness, ideally conceived, is not readily achievable as a general social policy." Morally speaking, the obligation to remember, to honor victims and to insure "never again," remains strong. The human need to deal with the past is ascendant, and it manifests itself in three major forms: trials, truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs), and restitution.

First, let me say a word about trials. Trials deliver accountability for criminal action. The Nuremberg trials established a landmark precedent, the effects of which we are still feeling today. At Nuremberg a new category of crime was introduced - crimes against humanity. Similar trials were held in Tokyo, dealing with the war crimes of the Japanese regime during World War II. The process of adjudicating war crimes and crimes against humanity has devolved to ad hoc tribunals, such as the ones we are now seeing in The Hague dealing with the former Yugoslavia, and in Arusha, Tanzania dealing with the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide. There is also currently much talk about the establishment of a tribunal to deal with the genocidal activities of the former Khmer Rouge government in Cambodia.

Trials have the virtue of holding individuals criminally accountable for their actions. Yet there remain structural, procedural, and tactical issues to consider as we seek to balance the demands of justice and the imperatives of reconciliation.

  • Structurally, there is the question of whether the current ad hoc system ought to be consolidated under the umbrella of a standing International Criminal Court (ICC). Questions remain as to how that court should operate and how it would interact with domestic courts.
Procedurally, there is a serious question about "universal jurisdiction," and how this concept should be implemented. Simply put, universal jurisdiction means that any court, anywhere can hold a suspect accountable for crimes against humanity. Therefore, Pinochet could be tried in London, after been charged by a Spanish judge, for crimes committed in Chile. What then happens to Chilean sovereignty in this matter? And do Chileans have the right to exercise their sovereign prerogative to pardon the General or grant him amnesty? Tactically, one might ask if it is a smart political strategy to insist on the prosecution of every alleged war criminal by an ICC. For example, would governments want to rule out "cutting a deal" with a Pinochet, Papa Doc Duvalier, Milosevic, or even Saddam if such a deal would accomplish the removal of this person from power? By insisting on trials and punishment, could the international community be feeding the fires of current conflict and forsaking a possible tool of peaceful conflict resolution (that is, buying off an undesirable leader and sending him into exile)?

In recent years, we have seen ad hoc trials for both "big fish" (political leaders) and "little fish" (those carrying out policy on the ground). Some trials have been international in scope, and some carried out in domestic courts. In looking at overall strategies for accountability and reconciliation, far and away the most interesting and popular recent innovation has been the truth and reconciliation commission.

What is a truth commission? A truth commission is an official government body established to address criminally activity and "difficult pasts," yet not in the same judicial role as a court. Punishment is not the primary motivating factor; acknowledgement of past injustices is. In many cases, truth commissions offer amnesty to violators in exchange for truthful testimony. The idea is to put the truth - the facts - on the public record, and to gain voluntary acknowledgement from perpetrators where possible.

Journalist Priscilla Hayner has written a new book, Unspeakable Truths: Confronting State Terror and Atrocity, where she chronicles the stunning rise of the truth commission as a tool for dealing with the past. In 1992, the UN established a truth commission in El Salvador. In 1995, the highly publicized South African TRC, under the leadership of Bishop Desmond Tutu, began its work. The South African TRC has been widely praised as a mitigating force against potential violence in South Africa as the government transitioned from apartheid to democratic rule. Today, over a dozen countries are seriously considering establishing TRCs, including Bosnia, the Republic of Yugoslavia, Peru (after Fujimori), and Indonesia. Perhaps most dramatically, there is also a move to establish TRCs in the places of the most savage violence in recent years, Sierra Leone and East Timor.

Truth commissions are now seen as standard technique for countries recovering from civil war or an oppressive government/military regime. Each TRC is different, and each adapts to its own national needs and experiences. Some name names, and some do not. Some are entirely public, and others do part of their work in private. Some trade amnesty for willingness to cooperate, others do not. In general, the TRCs have one overarching purpose: to uncover past abuses, to acknowledge wrongdoing, to provide a cathartic effect for individuals, and to enable new leaders to begin anew.

TRCs have not been without controversy. There is perhaps one major area of concern: the relationship between the TRCs and the international human rights community. What happens to universal jurisdiction when a national government (as in El Salvador) grants an amnesty as part of its TRC program? Should local governments always prevail in these cases? Or does the international community have rights and responsibilities here to intervene? With the establishment of a new International Criminal Court (ICC), these jurisdictional issues may well come to the fore.

Along with the proliferation of truth commissions, we are also witnessing a proliferation of court cases involving reparations and restitutions. The most celebrated cases involve German industry, Swiss banks, and Japan industries (who used slave labor during WWII). Reparations and restitution are ways of acknowledging past injustices. The United States regularly uses this tool, as witnessed most recently in its offers to Chinese nationals killed in the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the victims of an Iranian civilian jet accidentally shot down by a U.S. navy ship patrolling in the Persian Gulf. The exchange of money in these instances signifies more than a debt owed. It can also signify the acknowledgement of an injustice, remorse, and the desire to make amends. It can be a part of a healing process.

Restitution and reparations can also be a cause for argument and resentment. The most famous case, of course, was the insistence of the victorious Allies in WWI to insist on exorbitant punitive damages from the Germans in the aftermath of WWI. The onerous Versailles Treaty is universally acknowledged today to have been the engine of great resent in Weimar Germany, and also a precipitating factor in the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of WWII. Today, we see less dramatic yet important struggles over the need to provide restitution for past injustices. In the United States, some African-Americans believe that reparations for slavery are in order. In Israel/Palestine today, part of the peace negotiations hinge on the obligations of Israel to address the grievances of those Palestinians displaced in the war of 1948. Should Israel provide reparations, restitution, or the right of return? These are open and hotly debated questions. How Nations Make Peace

I would like to conclude by commenting on how these concepts help us to understand "how nations make peace." At the end of any conflict, "a victor's actions toward the vanquished have a decisive impact on whether the defeated will accept or reject the [post conflict] settlement and whether their role in the [post conflict] world will be constructive or destructive." In their book by this title, How Nations Make Peace, Charles Kegley and Greg Raymond investigate the responsibilities of victors in the peacemaking process. They analyze the underlying principles and values that guided the decisions of various victorious leaders throughout history: the Roman Assembly at the end of the First Punic War; Metternich and Castlereagh at the Congress of Vienna; Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau after World War I; and Truman and Stalin as they dealt with the defeated German nation in 1945. Did these statesmen think along the lines of Winston Churchill, who counseled, "in war, resolution; in defeat, defiance; in victory, magnanimity"? Or did they follow the view of Otto von Bismarck, who once quipped, "nothing should be left to an invaded people except their eyes for weeping"?

Kegley and Raymond offer a good analysis of peacemaking after "system-transforming" conflicts - conflicts with clear winners and losers. What about conflicts with more ambiguous results? What about conflicts where there is no clear winner or loser, and where the very notion of justice and injustice is contested (e.g. present day Kosovo, or in Israel/Palestine). It would seem that the parties to these conflicts have a choice. They can either deal with the past, sharing their narratives and perspectives without necessarily agreeing on them, or trying to forget the past entirely, moving ahead in a lawyer's fashion, working out agreements for peaceful coexistence.

It would seem to me that we would be wise to acknowledge that there is no escaping difficult pasts. Human nature seems to demand a reckoning with the past, and it may be foolish to think that one can escape the inevitable tensions between remembering and forgetting, pursuing justice and "moving ahead." Historians have done much in recent years to sensitize us to the psychological importance of competing narratives. Perhaps it is healthy to have a critical perspective on our own worldview, as well as the worldviews of others. The ways in which we acknowledge or deny the past, commemorate it, and teach it, all have real implications for policy and decision-making.

As a realist, I understand that nations make peace based on common interests. But I also believe that common interests can be forged around common goals and common values. The theologian H. Richard Niebuhr wrote in The Story of Our Life that "where a common memory is lacking, where people do not share the same past, there can be no real community; and where community is to be formed common memory must be created." To reach peace, community, at some level, must be created. How it is created - whether by symbolic action, commemoration, or changes in educational patterns and attitudes - is the task not only of the political leader, but of local leaders, religious leaders, educators, artists, and citizens.