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The Big Question: What lessons from history keep being forgotten?
The world’s problems are rarely new. There are always precedents that should inform today’s most crucial decisions. World Policy Journal asked five experts from the United Kingdom, Burundi, Chile, Turkey, and Venezuela what lessons from history keep being forgotten.
Silencing the echoes of Tiananmen
Journalist Louisa Lim describes how the Chinese Communist Party has compelled China to forget the bloody crackdown around Tiananmen Square in 1989. To create this national amnesia, the government repressed political ambitions and funneled aspirations toward the economic sphere—a worrying fact for the Communist Party as the country’s GDP growth slows.
Contesting peace: Why Japan needs a real debate on pacifism
Throughout Japan’s history, leaders have used a rhetoric of peace to justify aggression and imperialism. Peace is an apparition, historian Eri Hotta argues, that needs to be challenged if the country is to come to terms with its wartime past and confront the virulent nationalism of Japan’s conservative government.
Ethiopia’s original sin
At the Battle of Adwa, Emperor Menelik II routed the invading Italian army in 1896. For some in Ethiopia, the victory is a symbol of black resistance against European colonial rule. But writers Hassen Hussein and Mohammed Ademo argue the glorification of Menelik, a brutal conqueror, removes the Oromo and other marginalized ethnic groups from the national record. This is significant for those left out of history are more easily disregarded in the present.
Map Room: Britain’s plunder of India
This map tracks two of the most important commodities in the economic and political relationship between India and the United Kingdom: salt and cotton. For 250 years, the United Kingdom extracted money and cheap raw goods from India, which, in turn, was forced to import highly taxed goods.
When the shooting stops: How transitional justice turns knowledge into acknowledgment
When the president of Colombia shook hands with the leader of the FARC, the longest-running conflict in the Western Hemisphere was over, but ensuring peace after the official end of the fighting is never easy. Using examples from Northern Ireland, Argentina, and Chile, author Robin Kirk argues that a formal reckoning with the past can help a nation like Colombia heal, especially when a balance between retribution and absolution can be found.
The currency of history: Money and the idea of progress
The history of money is normally told as a series of material changes and technological improvements, but historian Rebecca L. Spang argues that this version of the past obscures the monetary inequality that exists today. Money is a social and political fact as much as it is an economic one, and access to the different types of currency depends on government policy and banking-sector regulation.
The return of Sanskrit: How an old language got caught up in India’s new culture wars
Indian scholar Ananya Vajpeyi examines the way the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is using Sanskrit to advance a Hindu supremacist agenda. She argues that academics need to step out of the ivory tower and resist the government’s manipulation of this ancient language.
Anatomy: Forgotten Histories
Historical events often get lost below the fold. World Policy Journal finecombs newspaper archives to uncover overshadowed events.
Healing the invisible wounds of war with Greek tragedy
Translator and theater director Bryan Doerries describes how he has used ancient Greek tragedies to disrupt hierarchies and create a space for members of the military “to tell their truths of the experiences of war.” Drama can help people suffer openly and communally, sharing the burden of war memories across a community.
A novel intervention: Remembering the Vietnam War
World Policy Journal speaks with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, who criticizes an “industry of memory” that creates and bolsters a single version of history. Hollywood, the Vietnamese-American author says, is a “very powerful propaganda ministry” that seduces audiences to identify with the American perspective.
“Kill the Indian, save the man”: On the painful legacy of Canada’s residential schools
Photographer Daniella Zalcman documents survivors of Canada’s attempt to eradicate Indigenous culture through a network of church-run schools. Zalcman finds that a year after the release of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, the Canadian government has implemented few of its 94 recommendations.
Undertrial and error: Tens of thousands of Indians languish in jail, waiting for their cases to be heard
India’s jails hold more people waiting for their cases to be heard than those who have actually been convicted of a crime. These incarcerated individuals are so common in India that they’re known as “undertrials.” Journalist Vidhi Doshi explains how India’s underfunded judicial system produces so many undertrials and why they can end up in jail for years without ever seeing a judge.
‘We search, we find, we kill’: Inside Karachi’s gangland purge
Journalist Taimur Khan investigates a military-led campaign of extrajudicial killings in Karachi, Pakistan. Khan argues that while the operation has led to a citywide decline in violence, it is not sustainable and has hollowed out the already meager abilities of the civilian police force.
Out of luck: The fall of Banco Espírito Santo
The Espírito Santo family were the Rockefellers of Portugal, until the collapse of their business empire threatened to bring down the country’s economy. Investigative reporter Khadija Sharife outlines transparency laws that would act as preventative measures against potential wrongdoing and alert governments about the financial state of companies, like Banco Espírito Santo, that are vital to a country’s economic stability.
The citizen and the state: The decline of sovereignty in the Arab world
Commentator Rami G. Khouri argues that the fundamental problem in the Arab world is dysfunctional statehood. Arab citizens remain estranged from their governments, which rely not on the consent of their people for legitimacy but on foreign countries or oil income to remain in power.
Coda: Not even past
"The past always haunts the present," argues World Policy Journal editor Christopher Shay. While most political scientists fail to acknowledge the lingering impact of loss and repression, it's usually the autocrats, dissidents, educators, and artists who best understand the power of history's ghosts. These individuals, who write and re-write history, travel through time, altering the narratives of nations and societies.