Cultural Amnesia has long been on my shelf of books to re-read over and over again for the rest of my life. Here’s one reason:
“In whichever way a democratic system might be sick, terrorism does not heal it, it kills it. Democracy is healed with democracy.” – Virginio Rognoni (quoted in Cultural Amnesia, page 616)
Such words may seen carved in stone for our time, but Rognoni spoke them for the ages. As per Clive James:
“As the minister of the interior between 1978 and 1983, Rognoni was the man on the spot in the period the Italians still call gli anni di piombo – the years of lead. It was a period in which the extreme right and the extreme left staged a period of shooting and bombing competitions when held the spectators on tenterhooks, because they were among the targets. As the death toll mounted, Rognini was under tremendous pressure to arrogate emergency powers to himself” … “Rognoni resisted the temptation and settled in for a long battle. The blessed day when a full thirty-two leaders of the Red Brigades were sent to goal – it was Monday, January 24, 1983 – happened on his watch. Terrorism in Italy wasn’t over, but its back was broken.”
The calls at that time and place were far louder than ours for an extra-judicial force to emerge: to say that civil society was incapable of rendering justice against those who attacked civil society. But this is a sickness – one that has been caught and cured before. We forget because it is easy to forget; it is convenient.
Neither law nor history is convenient. Laws that are too convenient for the powerful are indistinguishable from tyranny. History is what allows us to remember this fact … and the fact that men like Rognoni have already done the hard work, showing us the lesson we must, inevitably, no matter how much blood we spill in righteous indignation, learn again.
If only we weren’t so inclined to forget – if only we were willing to do a little of the hard work up front, to prevent much bigger tragedies tomorrow.
“Cultural Amnesia” indeed.