July 23: Minow’s “Between Vengeance and Forgiveness”
1. What are the characteristics and dynamics of vengeance as a response to mass atrocity and wrongdoing?
- Is one response to mass atrocity
(1) Impulse to retaliate. Its a way people display self-respect. Its a refusal to be mistreated so you act out with
(2) It evokes peoples sense of narrative danger.
(3) What people resort to when they don’t have alternative ways of dealing with is. To regain self-respect (also a form
Problems with vengeance
(1) Leads to a cycle of violence. Endless vendetta.
- gives people the false idea that they are in control of their actions and its their duty. But minnow says this digs them
into a deeper hole. (you can't fight fire with fire)
(2) Motivated by a perceived wrong. You may be mistaken by what happened.
(3) Retribution is healthier form of vengeance. Third party intervening (Gov. officials, court of law etc.) Someone else
is now making the decision to undue justice and restoring equality. Idea of doing the right deed for the right reason.
2. What are the characteristics and dynamics of forgiveness as a response to mass atrocity and wrongdoing?
Minow is inclined to think that an alternative to the inadequacies of vengeance and forgiveness is a response to
mass atrocity that involves elements of both. That response is restores the dignity of victims while dealing
respectfully with the perpetrators of violence.
- another way of dealing with mass atrocity
- forgiveness is sacrificial
- Where we reconnect & recognize common humanity between victim and perpretator.
- This helps those forgiving to let go of the self- destructive affects of holding on to your pain. (Trauma=self-injury)
- Part of forgiveness is to reconstruct society.
- It's a sense of relief and self healing
- Therefore, forgiveness is a change in the victims feelings...it is therapeutic.
Problems with Forgiveness
(1) Pardoning someone can release culpability. It can be that your dodging the crime. Avoiding facing the conflict by
forgiving and forgetting. (Showing avoidance)
(2) Forgiving can elevate the wrong doer. It can be one sided and turn back and hit you in the face. The victim is
understanding what the perpetrator has done. This shows avoidance and there is a high risk of the problem coming
back. Justice is not served.
(3) Public Forgiveness is a problem because its government officials forgiving on behalf of 'everyone'. Within
'everyone' there are different feelings and their might be a disconnect from what the government is thinking and what
the victims are feeling. The government who is supposed to rep. 'everyone' cant realistically represent 'everyone'.
(4) A perpetrator cant have a right to be forgiven. Perpetrator cant demand forgiveness.
(5) Forgiveness had to involve reconstructing society and it's hard to keep that in mind.
Vengeance and forgiveness
- Has to have both the therapeutic value (forgiveness) and political value (Vengeance). The political value meaning
restoring democracy, removing culpable officials and implementing safeguards. 3. What is the goal of “truth-telling” in the response to mass atrocity? What difficulties are associated with the
role of “truth-telling” in that process?
- Memory revealed in the disclosure of truth causes bystanders to recognize the reality of events and to face their own
choices about action and inaction
- How does truth telling and remembrance be therapeutic? Because you don’t want to forget the events. Society must
reflect on its own ways of talking about the past to acknowledge that history is contestable.
- There should be truth commissions set up for the purpose of reconciliation. These are government and state managed
commissions that documents a pattern of past human rights abuses.. This idea makes it look like the problem is being
- Trading amnesty for truth-telling, rather than promoting systemic amnesia, has far greater value than courts in
revealing the wide-ranging instances and affects of atrocities .
―truth commissions can augment the work of prosecutions in establishing accountability for widespread human rights
Truth commissions are sometimes criticized for allowing crimes to go unpunished, and creating impunity for serious
human rights abusers.
- way of curbing vengeance
Problems with truth commissions
(1) Vengeance can enter truth commission. By involving the public, it invites people with outrage.
(2) There would be a variety of news coverage on commissions. And the source might be bias.
(3) Commissions are about retribution. (punishment/vengeance) If there is lack of evidence then law would fail.
(4) this involves non-governmental organizations which involves travel and conflicts of interests.
Minow discusses the value of truth commissions in comparison with judicial prosecutions, issues related to the healing
of trauma on both a personal level and a societal level, and the range of goals (in addition to truth and justice) that
should inform the nature of collective responses to large-scale violence. Truth commissions should explore what
happens, who was involved. Etc.
4. What is the role of public art and memorialisation in the response to mass atrocity? What difficulties are
associated with the role of remembrances and artistic or cultural representations of past atrocities?
- allows for multiple interpretations about mass atrocity. It sums up all feelings into the art.
- it is a way of respecting the victims and fighters in the atrocity.
- it expresses the communities aspirations for the future.
- a way of remembering the event, accepting it and moving forward in the reconstruction of society. Not about
forgetting and also not about holding on.
5. What is the goal of reparations in the response to mass atrocity? What difficulties are associated with the
effort to make reparations to victims?
- reparations are compensations to the victims (ex. Financial reparations)
- the root cause of legal and social reparations is to re-make society.
- removing officials, education, rebuilding society and safeguards
- problems and difficulties with this is that it involves forgetting. Also how can you put an amount on suffering. How
do you come up with such a number. The rise of collective violence and genocide is the 20th century's most terrible legacy. Martha MInow, a Harvard law
professor, and most brilliant humane mind, lays out our attempts to heal after such large scale tragedy.
As the title to Martha Minow's book Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass
Violence suggests, Minow locates the road to healing of the trauma of mass violence somewhere between vengeance
and forgiveness. This means that neither the violent reactive cycling of vengeance nor the "saintliness" of full
forgiveness will suffice on its own.
In Between Vengeance and Forgiveness, Minow sets out to examine the range of institutional responses a state or its
people can call upon in the wake of violent atrocity. Her project concentrates on genocide's effects both on individuals
and on states and their communities, acknowledging that the types of responses that can be offered or that will be
effective will vary widely from person to person and community to community. She sets up a list of factors that affect
the success of varying approaches to recovery -- approaches as diverse as trials, truth commissions, therapeutic
healing, and reparations. The list includes considerations of whether or not a project of nation building has promise,
distribution of minority and majority groups, level of involvement of international and nongovernmental institutions,
amount of time passed since the atrocity, whether or not atrocities were committed by both sides, and whether the new
regime is a successor regime or the same regime that presided over the wrongs. The countless variables that can come
to play within even this short list calls to mind the immense difficulty of the field Minow has chosen to explore.
Laudably, Minow doesn't try to offer an all-encompassing theory or "answer" to what is too complex a question to
allow such solution. Minow insists, admirably, that her goal is not precision and indeed oughtnot to be:
Two reasons animate my resistance to tidiness. First, the variety of circumstances and contexts for each nation, and
indeed each person, must inflect and inform purposes in dealing with the past and methods that work or can even be
tried.... Saying that context matters is not the end of the analysis. Rather, it is the beginning. (4-5)
Her goal is to develop a vocabulary for thinking and talking about these issues, a vocabulary that respects the harms
done to victims and honors the memories of survivors while also aiming at rebuilding the lives of individuals, groups
How do nations or societies respond after periods of mass violence, indescribable episodes of systematic torture, rape
and slaughter of minority or marginalized populations, or even ethnic cleansing and genocide? Historically, of course,
the most common response of populations freed from such oppression has been retaliation in at least equal measure, if
not more profoundly violent and obscene in character. Despite the world, in the twentieth century, experiencing
atrocities of more magnitude and frequency than ever before, Martha Minow somewhat optimistically details several
societal responses aimed at seeking collective healing and reconciliation. After discussing the poles of vengeance and
forgiveness, Minow expounds on the strengths and limitations of legal remedies, truth commissions and efforts at
reparation, before finishing with other possible efforts for reconciliation. While approaching the topics from the
perspective of societal health, her use of very individual examples of trauma, discussions about each approach’s
implications for personal healing and suggestions for more integration of psychological care, help avoid any suspicion
that she is espousing a utilitarian methodology of collective recovery at the expense of the individual well being of
Seeking to explore the nuances between the extremes, Minow begins with the examination of two dichotomies that
have significant bearing on the response to mass trauma — remembering-forgetting and vengeance-forgiveness.
Reconciliation of victims, perpetrators and bystanders requires seeking a ―path between too much memory and too
much forgetting.‖ (p.4) Sweeping the atrocities under the table denies the reality of the victims experiences and leaves
the door open for the continuation of oppressive structures, while wallowing in the aftermath of trauma exacerbates the
wounds, delaying or preventing healing while also increasing the likelihood of equally oppressive reprisals against the perpetrators. Memory, revealed in disclosure of truth, causes bystanders to recognize the reality of events and to ―face
their own choices about action and inaction.‖ (p.146)
Vengeance, rather than solely negative, is ―the wellspring of a notion of equivalence that animates justice.‖ (p.10)
Minow points out that the danger of vengeance, in combination with its all too common companion hatred, is the
escalation of retaliatory violence. Retribution, through the rule of law, tames vengeance with proportionality by
transferring the roles of blaming and punishing out of the hands of the victim and placing them in the legal system.
(p.12) The problem exists, however, that the more heinous the atrocity, the more likely it is that the proportional
response would be unconscionable. Forgiveness, in its capacity to free the victim of hatred and view the offender as
still human, can be a viable alternative. When a society forgives in the form of amnesty or pardon, however, it more
resembles institutionalized forgetfulness – the atrocity, being publicly ignored, serves to fester deep seated resentment
and increases the likelihood of violence. (p.20) Ultimately, forgiveness cannot be mandated by society since the
capacity to grant forgiveness resides wholly with the individual victim. (p.20) Public officials can call for forgiveness,
but announcing societal forgiveness translates into official or public amnesia, denying the truth- seeking that true
reconciliation requires. (p.16,17)
In exploring the middle ground between the extremes of vengeance and forgiveness, Minow continues by discussing
legal solutions, truth commissions and reparations as societal responses. Decades after the Nuremburg and Tokyo
trials, international tribunals and domestic courts sought to use those precedents in prosecuting perpetrators of mass
atrocity with varying degrees of effectiveness and integrity. Despite the values of trial processes in that they disclose
limited truths, ―cool vengeance [and] interrupt the vicious cycle of blame and feud‖ (p. 26), legal proceedings entail
several shortcomings. In many instances perpetrators were judged against ethical norms that were retroactively given
the status of international law. (p.32) Political considerations regulate whether or not trials occur, based sometimes on
the resolution of other conflicts or negotiated settlements. (p.39) Trials of the vanquished by the victors, being
particularly one-sided, are also politicized and open to charges of gross injustice. (p.30) Selectivity is a third critique
Minow levels against trials. In this instance, due to limited resources and time, only minimal numbers of perpetrators,
among them many times only relatively minor players, actually stand trial. While generally trying to steer away from
popular cynicism about the applicability of legal proceedings, Minow nonetheless quotes Tina Rosenberg’s statement,
―[t]rials, in the end, are ill suited to deal with the subtleties of facing the past.‖ (p.51)
Relying heavily on the experiences of the South African TRC, among others, Minow seems to hold more hope for
reconciliation through the use of truth commissions. Trading amnesty for truth-telling, rather than promoting systemic
amnesia, has far greater value than courts in revealing the wide-ranging instances and effects of atrocities. (p. 59)
Besides the potential effects of identifying perpetrators and vindicating the physical and emotional realities of the
victims, truth committees provide for the fuller participation of bystanders in the reconciliation process. The
―uninvolved‖ general public, through witnessing the testimonies of oppressors and oppressed alike, become political
actors by recognizing their complicity through acts of commission or omission and recognizing their responsibility and
power in preventing future atrocities. (p.75) One tentative caution Minow gives is that the truth revealed in these
processes is necessarily weighted in favor of the victim, thereby still leaving a less than historically accurate record of
events. (p.86) Another lies in the incomplete, but nonetheless positive, therapeutic value of testifying for alleviating
both individual and societal maladies resulting from the violence – it is the beginning of the work, not the end. (p.70ff)
Minow argues that the goal of restorative justice is incomplete without reparations for damages done. (p.92)
Reparations, however, are more symbolic than materially meaningful because it is very difficult to quantify the
economic value of the effects of mass violence. (p.103) Reparations, whether monetary, restitution, memorials,
apologies or opportunities for future education or development, serve to legitimate and acknowledge the damage
suffered by victims, rather than represent any form of equitable recompense. (p.93, 117)
Rather than resting on one method of seeking reconciliation, or claiming to have the one correct answer, Minow posits
that trials, commissions and reparations all play a part in mitigating social realities following atrocities. (p.122) She
also adds to this list other possibilities for reconciliation efforts, not as substitutes, but rather to complement the three
primary methods discussed. Acknowledging the potential problems associated with some, Minow briefly discusses
purging governmental offices in instances of government-sponsored atrocities, blanket amnesty grants, access to secret
government files, more concrete use of memorials and art, the production of narrative accounts and building education programs and materials. (Other Possibilities, p.136ff) Within the text, Minow also shows her interest in providing
more robust health and psychological services to victims. July 24th: The Plague by Albert Camus
The Plague is a novel about a plague epidemic in the large Algerian city of Oran. In April, thousands of rats stagger
into the open and die. When a mild hysteria grips the population, the newspapers begin clamoring for action. The
authorities finally arrange for the daily collection and cremation of the rats. Soon thereafter, M. Michel, the concierge
for the building where Dr. Rieux works, dies after falling ill with a strange fever. When a cluster of similar cases
appears, Dr. Rieux's colleague, Castel, becomes certain that the illness is the bubonic plague. He and Dr. Rieux are
forced to confront the indifference and denial of the authorities and other doctors in their attempts to urge quick,
decisive action. Only after it becomes impossible to deny that a serious epidemic is ravaging Oran, do the authorities
enact strict sanitation measures, placing the whole city under quarantine.
The public reacts to their sudden imprisonment with intense longing for absent loved ones. They indulge in selfish
personal distress, convinced that their pain is unique in comparison to common suffering. Father Paneloux delivers a
stern sermon, declaring that the plague is God's punishment for Oran's sins. Raymond Rambert endeavors to escape
Oran to rejoin his wife in Paris, but the city's bureaucrats refuse to let him leave. He tries to escape by illegal means
with the help of Cottard's criminal associates. Meanwhile, Rieux, Tarrou, and Grand doggedly battle the death and
suffering wrought by the plague. Rambert finalizes his escape plan, but, after Tarrou tells him that Rieux is likewise
separated from his wife, Rambert is ashamed to flee. He chooses to stay behind and help fight the epidemic. Cottard
committed a crime (which he does not name) in the past, so he has lived in constant fear of arrest and punishment. He
greets the plague epidemic with open arms because he no longer feels alone in his fearful suffering. He accumulates a
great deal of wealth as a smuggler during the epidemic.
After the term of exile lasts several months, many of Oran's citizens lose their selfish obsession with personal
suffering. They come to recognize the plague as a collective disaster that is everyone's concern. They confront their
social responsibility and join the anti-plague efforts. When M. Othon's small son suffers a prolonged, excruciating
death from the plague, Dr. Rieux shouts at Paneloux that he was an innocent victim. Paneloux, deeply shaken by the
boy's death, delivers a second sermon that modifies the first. He declares that the inexplicable deaths of innocents force
the Christian to choose between believing everything and believing nothing about God. When he falls ill, he refuses to
consult a doctor, leaving his fate entirely in the hands of divine Providence. He dies clutching his crucifix, but the
symptoms of his illness do not match those of the plague. Dr. Rieux records him as a "doubtful case."
When the epidemic ends, Cottard cannot cope. He begins randomly firing his gun into the street until he is captured by
the police. Grand, having recovered from a bout of plague, vows to make a fresh start in life. Tarrou dies just as the
epidemic is waning, but he battles with all his strength for his life, just as he helped Rieux battle for the lives of others.
Rambert's wife joins him in Oran after the city gates are finally opened, but Dr. Rieux's own wife dies of a prolonged
illness before she and her husband can be reunited. The public quickly returns to its old routine, but Rieux knows that
the battle against the plague is never over because the bacillus microbe can lie dormant for years. The Plague is his
chronicle of the scene of human suffering that all too many people are willing to forget. CHARACTERS
Dr. Bernard Rieux - Dr. Bernard Rieux is the narrator of The Plague. He is one of the first people in Oran to urge
that stringent sanitation measures be taken to fight the rising epidemic. A staunch humanist and atheist, Dr. Rieux has
little patience with the authorities' foot-dragging in response to his call for action. His actions and personality imply
that he believes in a personal as well as a social code of ethics. When Oran is placed under quarantine, Dr. Rieux
continues to doggedly battle the plague despite the signs that his efforts make little or no difference. Although he is
separated from his wife, he does not allow his personal distress to distract him from his battle to relieve the collective
social suffering wrought on the confused and terrified population of Oran.
Jean Tarrou - Jean Tarrou is the author of the account that Dr. Rieux uses to give greater texture to his chronicle of
the plague. Tarrou is vacationing in Oran when the epidemic requires a total quarantine of the city. As an outsider, his
observations on Oran society are more objective than those of a citizen of the city. Tarrou's beliefs about personal and
social responsibility are remarkably similar to those of Dr. Rieux, but Tarrou is far more philosophical. He does not
believe in God, so he does not believe in the illusion of an intrinsic rational and moral meaning in death, suffering, and
human existence. For him, human existence gains meaning only when people choose freely to participate in the losing,
but noble struggle against death and suffering. Tarrou contributes to the anti-plague effort in accordance with his code
Joseph Grand - Joseph Grand is an elderly civil servant in Oran. When he accepted his job as a young man, he was
promised the opportunity for promotion, but, over the years, he never actively pursued it. Therefore, he remained in the
same job for decades. His marriage also settled into a daily humdrum. Eventually, Grand's wife Jeanne tired of the
monotonous routine and left him. Over the years, Grand has tried to write her a letter, but he suffers from an intense
anxiety over finding the "right words" to express himself. This anxiety also hinders his literary pursuit. Grand is trying
to write a book, but he wants to create the perfect manuscript, so he has never gotten beyond the opening line.
Raymond Rambert - Raymond Rambert is a journalist from Paris. He comes to Oran to research the sanitary
conditions in the Arab population, but the sudden, unexpected total quarantine of Oran traps him in the city. He
desperately struggles to find some method of escape from Oran to rejoin his wife in Paris.
Cottard - Cottard is suspicious, paranoid, and mercurial. In the past, he committed a crime that he does not name, so
he constantly fears arrest and punishment. When Oran falls under total quarantine, Cottard is happy because he no
longer feels alone in his state of constant fear. Moreover, the plague occupies the authorities entirely, so he does not
fear arrest. He engages in the profitable smuggling trade during the epidemic and eschews all responsibility to help
fight the disease.
Father Paneloux - Father Paneloux is a Jesuit priest in Oran. Early during the epidemic, he delivers a sermon to his
confused, frightened congregation declaring that the plague is a God-sent punishment for their sins. As the plague
rages on, he m