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Caro
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PostSubject: Community silences   Thu 06 Mar 2014, 23:13

I have been reading a very good book, a mix of memoir, history, family history, philosophy, historiography, sociological ideas, etc called The Lost Pilot by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman.  It is mostly about (I may have said before) his connection with relatives of the Japanese kamikaze pilots who didn't manage to kill his father in the British navy at Okinawa (though he later managed to die early by alcoholism).

At the end he talks about emotional silence, the silence of his father (and many soldiers) about their experiences, the silence of the Japanese about the war, and the silence of respect and emotion when he showed photos and they showed the samurai sword of their dead uncle.

But he mentions the silence of NZers on Anzac Day (same as Remembrance Day silence)  and refers to a Yale University man, Jay Winter, saying that while we have one form of silence as respect for what happened at Gallipoli, "there is also a different kind of silence, where Turkey chokes off anything to do with the Amrenian genocide that began on the same day in that same year.  Here was an example of a great communal silence - a nation forbidden to speak of an event the rest of the world acknowledges - a silence that if broken can land those Turks who do so in prison.  A silence too that New Zealanders will not trifle with, to avoid offending our Turkish brothers."

And that's right.  We feel a real affinity with Turkey here, because of Gallipoli events of 1915, and I didn't know about the Armenians till just a few years ago. It's not mentioned here.

I wondered what other similar silences lead to this sort of refusal to talk about an event in another country in case it is offensive.  I suppose in most cases it would be for similar racial/ethnic sort of reasons.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 04:55

Well it wasn't just the Armenians either Caro, it was the Greeks living in Asia Minor too, and at the same time. A whole myth has been built up in Australia and New Zealand around Turkey because of Gallipoli, a myth that refuses to allow for anything else that may tarnish that rosy glow. There is also Allied guilt over the ethnic cleanings carried out by the Turks, these are more the reasons for the great silence rather than not wishing to offend Turkish brothers. 

But great silences? Lord Australia has been built on them where Aboriginals are concerned and not because it may cause offence. It is because of guilt, refusal to confront the truth and again, refusal to allow anything to taint the fantasy of Australian nationalism.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 07:18

Caro, re the Armenians, and Greeks, Turks, and indeed the whole Ottoman Empire during WW1, you might like to read Louis de Bernière's (fiction) "Birds Without Wings".... it's sort of a prequal to "Captain Correlli's Mandolin", though set in Anatolia, years before Capt C, and with almost none of the same characters.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 08:37

Communal silence can certainly be prompted by guilt and shame, as well of course by a real fear that the outstanding political issues caused by past actions and policies will come back within one's own lifetime and cause problems. There is a natural self-preservatory inclination to defer these possible days of reckoning to another generation if not to infinity.

But it is not always obvious guilt or shame for past atrocities that might lead to such a fear, or indeed such a silence. I have mentioned before the strange phenomenon - though in comparing with other societies it turns out probably not so uncommon after all - regarding the Irish communal reaction to the Great Famine that decimated the population in the 1840s. The famine's cause has been much discussed regarding blame and the conduct of the ruling power at the time, and there is no doubt that those who starved, died, and had their lives destroyed by the "great hunger" were victims of something with little or no apportionable blame falling on themselves (excluding the British reaction at the time expressed in some quarters that their "overbreeding" had led the Irish into their dilemma). As victims however one would think that there would be no feeling of either guilt or shame in the disaster's aftermath, whether one ascribed it to human failure or "an act of God". Yet this is precisely how the incident was mass-registered by almost the entire population, without obvious consultation, discussion or direction leading them to do so. And even up to my own childhood this was generally still the case - the matter was referred to in the most simplistic and perfunctory way when learning history but not much more, and the great bulk of the population had seemingly no view whatsoever on the subject. It was one of the major social developments that would impact on the population not just of Ireland, but also the UK, the USA, Australia and several other populations with visible effects to this day. Yet it was barely acknowledged for almost 150 years.

Turkey actively discourages any reference by its citizens to the massacre of Armenians in the modern state's infancy so this silence - commanded from above - is easier to understand. But I would compare this policy with Australia and the USA where discussion regarding the fate of the indigenous populations after European expansion is no longer prohibited by law or even social convention. Yet the effect of mass ennui engendered by the subject seems still as strong as ever. I would attribute this myself to education - namely that the pertinent historical facts concerning these policies and behaviour are taught to individuals generally long after they already have been inculcated with notions of patriotism and understanding of the identity they should adopt as citizens of the state in which they live. It is hard to undo what has been taught early in life, and suddenly having to face up to events that seemingly detract from one's feeling of worth based on what one understands oneself to be as a citizen, unless handled in an intelligent manner that takes this into consideration, will be more inclined to encourage silence than discussion amongst the majority, I feel.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 09:05

@Meles meles wrote:
Caro, re the Armenians, and Greeks, Turks, and indeed the whole Ottoman Empire during WW1, you might like to read Louis de Bernière's (fiction) "Birds Without Wings".... it's sort of a prequal to "Captain Correlli's Mandolin", though set in Anatolia, years before Capt C, and with almost none of the same characters.

Yes, it is an excellent book MM and addresses many of the myths built around that time by all parties concerned, the Turks, the Greeks and the Armenians. Although I found the book a little too biased toward Turkey, and no I'm not saying that because I live in Greece, it still was a refreshing change from the run of the mill stuff we have been fed by the various participants. De Berniere certainly offered much food for thought whilst relating the story.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 13:22

I agree ID, "Birds Without Wings", is a bit biased towards Turkey - but then it is of course narrated primarily from the perspective of Ottomans ... be they Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Circassians, Assyrians ... moslems, christians, ... literate merchant and illiterate peasant... noble and prostitute ... and so forth. However I think that was a deliberate ploy to try and get away from the Anglo-centric world view of always seeing the Ottomans as simply "rotten Johnny Turk', or "them barbarian, heathen, foreigners" etc ...  No?

And in his book, as in the real world of that time, almost nobody (neither individuals nor nations) comes out of the conflict guiltless and unscathed, although admittedly some do seem to pay a far higher price than others.

.... But I'm now somewhat drifting of the OP.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 14:51

Years ago on the old Beeb history board, I remember raising some points from the book during a discussion and came under an avalanche of objection form various posters because the book challenged the traditional monologue on the genocides. Which brings us back to the silence theme of the thread, I suppose.

(In particular I remember being treated to reams and reams of history according to Greece from Nik, if you remember the size of his posts you'll understand what I mean.  Smile  )
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 23:04

Islanddawn, just read this thread.

"(In particular I remember being treated to reams and reams of history according to Greece from Nik, if you remember the size of his posts you'll understand what I mean.    )"

Yes, Nikolaos, and lol beeble, who had the "patience" to answer to Nik's rethoric...

Kind regards, Paul.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 07:45

I have read Captain Corelli's Mandolin and the delightful warm stories in Notwithstanding, but I haven't read anything else by Louis de Berniere. It is in our library so I will look it out, thanks.

It is hard to comment on the social attitudes and feelings of a country you don't live in, so I am uncertain about Australia, but think it has taken on board its history with regard to the Aboringines much more in recent years.  New Zealand people learnt a lot more about the confiscation of Maori land in the 1970s when a National Party minister brought it to the forefront of his government and then of the people.  Since then Maori has been much more politically visible and part of the social discourse and very much part of children's education from an early age.  My daughter-in-law, whose 16-month-old baby has began daycare, was complaining to me that the centre sits the children down for 'kai time' which she objects to on several grounds, one that she doesn't feel it is accurate. "They are having lunchtime, not food time." (Kai means food. It is used quite a lot by both Maori and Pakeha for food, especially perhaps seafood - kai moana.) But she said it didn't matter which early childhood centre they used - it was part of the official curriculum to call it this.  And our local parent-run playcentre's main improvement they were asked to make was to have more Maori language around the place and used. 

People do seem to feel shame over things that are not their fault, or at least not want to talk about it.  People who have been the subject of abuse tend not to talk about it (and sometimes that probably makes less difficulties than bringing it to the fore), and I think I have mentioned before an episode where I was made very uncomfortable, aged 13, going home on a bus when a drunk man sat by me and eventually asked for my name and address so he could send me a present.  He got my name wrong and decided I was Helen.  I remember being so worried afterwards that a girl in my district called Helen would get his parcel. (Our family was teetotal and I had no idea that he would forget all about this later.)  But I didn't tell my family anything of this - for some reason I felt shame and probably guilt, though I had done nothing wrong.  By my standards - nowadays I suppose giving your name to a stranger would be thought wrong.

I think it is something to do with a general feeling of pride, not wanting to 'air the family washing in public', not burdening others with your problems, etc. In the case of Ireland, the desire not to bring shame on your family (and possibly punishment on your own head) by talking about problems is/was perhaps felt on behalf of the country.  People have a great deal of fondness generally for their nations and don't want them to be thought badly of, just as they don't with their families mostly. They may criticise it quietly to their friends (nowadays in their newspaper's online comments) but not to outsiders. And if things hurt too badly, as in the potato famine or with the death of a child or sexual abuse, they won't even do that.  Silence is safer.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Community silences   Mon 10 Mar 2014, 06:15

Silence may be safer or more comfortable for everyone else so they can pretend horrible things don't happen, but it isn't what is best for the victim/s or the community at large necessarily.
I think silence and a wilful failure to recognise is to perpetuate the crime as it facilitates those who commit attrocities at best. Or at worst, silence and the removal of victims from memory is to commit a further crime. Either way, silence gives criminals (be it state or individual) exactly what they want.
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