Peace Matters index ONLINE contents
Crossing the ness
Remembering the killing fields
First World War Diary
Children and violence
De-coding the image
Lifting the dead weight of habit
|remembering the killing fields
|Yes. The pictures, says their photographer, get cooler as they go back in time. The final images are intended to be of beauty and quietness, not as a sign of reconciliation to the terrible deaths they recall, but as a metaphor for the way our memories function. The shock recedes, the scars fade, nature softens the hard edges. People ask me What happened in Namibia? and then look rueful.... I feel OK about that. Theyve had to stop and think, and then they remember.
Whether his photographs stir recollections of forgotten history, or startle with images of recent horrors, Simon Norfolk is glad if they disturb: All I can do is unnerve.
He has unnerved himself, too. I used to be a pacifist totally against the death penalty. After four years of this, I think the death penalty is a damn fine thing. Those killers were bastards. They werent victims or mentally ill: they chose what they did. Like Hannah Arendt, I dont want to share this earth with them. But it hurts me to say this, to have reached this point.
So what about reprisals?
In 1918 Germany was stripped of colonies and the Ottoman Empire crumbled. The men who regarded the Hereros as apes, the men who cut out (and kept) the tongues of Armenians for daring to speak their own language, are long dead. Stalin, responsible not only for the Ukrainian famine but also for the purging of 50 million Russians, died at 74, still in office. (Air Marshal Bomber Harris went off to civilian employment in 1946; he got a knighthood in 1953, and, in 1992, a statue about which there was some controversy.)
After 1945: the Nuremberg Trials, and a still-active pursuit of death camp managers. Some executions, some suicides, some imprisonments; many natural deaths; some private vengeance. The Nazi disaster still has not run its course. No closure is in sight: the contradictory imperatives of remembering and forgetting are no less strong than before, a refugee from the Third Reich wrote recently.
The Vietnam War, like the Holocaust, still reverberates punishingly in personal, family, social and political memory, and as variously; there are damaged hearts, minds, and bodies on both sides.
Long after the Terror in Cambodia, Pol Pot lived on, in protective imprisonment among the Khmer Rouge remnant, until his recent undramatic death.
And Rwanda? This September the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced the former prime minister to life imprisonment the maximum sentence for genocide. Also convicted was a Hutu commune mayor and former schools inspector, who had ordered and participated in numerous killings, rapes and tortures. Simon Norfolk photographed the courtroom at Arusha. Im saying look at whats happened here: so where were YOU sitting? Genocide is everyones responsibility, because genocides have demonstrated that anyone is capable of participating in them.
Its true: no-one seems to know quite how to address the crime of crimes or find a way of dealing with its perpetrators. When you start saying I want them dead! whom do you come to resemble? What punishment, even death, might be appropriate, or do any good? Death comes to all, in any case; and the remaining lifetimes of some may well have been deeply troubled.
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