In the essay Some Things are Worth forgetting by Rebecca Onion, a book called In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and Its Ironies by journalist David Rieff is discussed. What the author of the essay tries to understand by interviewing Rieff is whether history should be remembered or not. There is this idea that history should not be forgotten, sacralized in a way. If you forget, it is a profound injustice to those who suffered and if you learn from human brutality, humanity may benefit and become compassionate as a result. Rieff thinks otherwise:
The mass murder of the Jews of Europe in the 1940s did not prevent the near genocide in East Pakistan, or the country that became Bangladesh, in 1971. It didn’t prevent the Khmer Rouge from killing a million people in Cambodia; it didn’t prevent the Rwandan genocide in 1994. As far as I can see, we don’t learn much of anything from the past. And if people say that we do, I have frankly one answer for them: Syria.
Which makes you wonder. Is learning from the past just wishful thinking? Are you condemned to repeat what history has instilled? Rieff thinks that memory is a convoluted thing and if memory is to be taken seriously what humanity should indulge in is Nietzche’s version of active forgetting.
Perhaps societies should emphasize the present and not the past. And for that, a certain amount of forgetting can be a very good thing.