Re: [xmca] Forgiveness

From: David Preiss (
Date: Mon Oct 23 2006 - 06:53:03 PDT

This is a topic that is discussed everyday here in Chile, Mike.

Half way the dictatorship Pinochet promulgated a decree that gave all
the military involved in human right abuses amnesty. The only case
that was excluded from that decree was Orlando Letelier’s murder in a
car bombing in Washington (maybe you remember it since an American
national was killed).

What made amnesty absurd was that it was like the military obtained
an official pardon (and judicial immunity) without ever asking
forgiveness from their family victims and those that survived. Still,
most of the disappeared have not been found, and the judiciary
invented the notion that they are kidnapped so responsible officials
could be prosecuted. As there are no bodies this is a crime that is
still being committed so there is no chance to provide the
responsible with amnesty. After this fantastic turn of judicial
reasoning, those guilty from abuses are saying that the disappeared
are “really” dead. Indeed, what makes the judicial option absurd is
that they are punishing the responsible after a lie: the people are
indeed dead, but that’s the only way they can be punished. So, we
have (partial) justice without (judicial) memory. There are no
bodies, there are no killings judicially recognized, until the bodies
appear, but there is a small dose of justice.

After 16 years of democracy, some civil servants and active
politicians from the right are saying that they were wrong in
supporting Pinochet. But, most certainly, this is a petition of
pardon that comes too late. On the other hand, the Chilean Church,
which here acted very different than the Argentinean Church and
avoided that the abuses were as big as they were in Argentina has
always acted with some notion of memory and forgiveness. The victims,
which are the ones who are supposed to pardon their abusers have
neglected any chance of pardon so far there is judicial immunity for
the killers and torturers. And some peoples say that they want to
know the true: only after the true is known, they could consider
grant their abusers with pardon.

What I learnt from the Chilean reality is that there is a delicate
triangle between memory/oblivion, justice and forgiveness, which has
to be set for each circumstance. Chile has chosen a combination of
oblivion and imposed forgiveness, which is a combination I certainly
do not recommend. After WWII, the Jewish people have rejected to
forget, and most certainly, to forgive, those that tried to
annihilate them. As a Jew, this is a combination I empathize with but
vis-à-vis Israeli militarism, I wonder how much well has done to us,
as Jews, they way we remember the Holocaust. The book by Hanna Arendt
on Eichmann comes to my mind as a nice illustration of a critical
view of memory without compassion.

I don’t think that there is a rule for these issues. I guess it is
very different on a personal dimension and on a public one. I would
never forget a partner that abandons me after a stroke. But I will
need to keep moving and I would not be able to focus on my recovery
if I am driven by resentment. The same way societies need some
amount of memory to not repeat the atrocities they commit. But they
also need some amount of forgetting so they can continue living
together without being driven constantly to war. And, on the other
hand, memory is not enough. The US has a god memory of Vietnam and
here they are, again sinking in Iraq. So it seems, from the Vietnam
example, memory without justice does not work. And, to my knowledge,
there were not real judicial consequences from America’s misgivings
in Vietnam.

I guess that justice and forgiveness are the cultural tools par
excellence to find the best solution for a particular circumstance.
But the way they are constructed are so particular for each
individual life, relationship and circumstance, that there is no way
to think of them starting from a general rule.


On Oct 23, 2006, at 1:06 AM, Mike Cole wrote:

> OK-- So here is another topic. Any help out there greatly appreciated.
> In my household the topic of forgiveness is a burning issue. There
> are a lot
> of sources.
> First, we have had a visit from a friend who has had a stroke and
> whose
> husband has left her
> and she is in deep pain.
> Second, we have been reading about the Amish parents in
> Pennsylvania who put
> aside, so far as
> we can tell, the unbelievable anger and pain they must have
> experienced, and
> have forgiven the man
> who killed their children, welcomed his wife into their community, and
> (again, so far as we can tell,
> for-given him his unforgivable (it would seem) trespasses.
> Third, there is fiction brewing locallly that involves a mother and
> daughter
> who are in conflict where the
> mother has transgressed the law seriously and the daughter is
> living with
> the consequences.
> So what does anyone on this amazing list of people have to counsel
> us about
> forgiveness, No eye for
> a tooth. What makes it possible? Legitimate? Forgivable, to forgive
> someone
> for causing unspeakable
> pain?
> This is all at the more or less personal/interpersonal level. I am
> well
> aware that there are macro versions of these
> questions that deserve all the attention we can give them, but up
> close and
> personal. --When is forgiveness possible
> and forgivable?
> Help please
> mike
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

David Preiss, Ph.D.
Profesor Auxiliar / Assistant Professor

Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
Escuela de Psicología
Av Vicuña Mackenna 4860
Macul, Santiago

Fono: 3544605
Fax: 3544844
web personal:
web institucional:

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