Fascinating piece in the Guardian
…in the American south after 1865, after the guns of the civil war fell silent, another form of battle raged over whose version of the conflict – the victorious Union or the defeated Confederacy – would prevail. As the recent debate in the US over the Confederate flag demonstrated, that battle over memory, though diminished, still goes on today. And just as collective historical memory blighted the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, today the same is true in Israel-Palestine, in Iraq and Syria, in the Hindu nationalist populism of India’s Bharatiya Janata party, and among jihadis and Islamists both in the Muslim world and in the Muslim diaspora in western Europe, North America and Australia.
This is not to suggest that there is an easy solution. On the contrary, it is probable that the need of human beings for community, already compelling in times of peace and plenty, comes to feel like a psychic and moral necessity in troubled times. But at least let there be no turning a blind eye to the high price societies have paid and are continuing to pay for the solace of remembrance.
Collective historical memory is no respecter of the past. This is not simply a matter of inaccuracy, wilful or otherwise, of the type one encounters in the many contemporary television miniseries that attempt to re-create a past historical era – Showtime’s The Tudors, say, or HBO’s Rome. When states, political parties, and social groups appeal to collective historical memory, their motives are far from trivial. Until well into the second half of the 20th century, the goal of such appeals was almost invariably to foster national unity. It would be comforting to believe that damnable regimes have been more given to this practice than decent ones. But the reality is that such efforts to mobilise and manipulate collective memory or manufacture it have been made by regimes and political parties of virtually every type.