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  • Dare-Nots May 29, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    Beach fluttered around the edges of an Italian project a few years ago that affected him profoundly. A series of interviews were collected from families who had suffered violence at the hands of the partisans at the end of the Second World War. The vast majority of these partisans, particularly in Emiglia-Romagna and Tuscany, had been Communist and in 1944 they were acting under the (thankfully mistaken) belief that the revolution was a sure thing. As the Germans retreated, some Communist groups, particularly in the Apennines and immediately to the north in the ‘Triangle of Death’ took to liquidating any enemies of the proletariat that they could lay their hands on. Priests, shopkeepers, those who attended mass… There was a long list and many had had either nothing to do with Fascism or had had only (like most Italian adults) nominal membership.

    The great curiosity was that the interviews were, again and again, with children. This being the 2000s not actual children, of course, but men and women who had been children or at best teens at the time. Those others in the family who had lived through those events – typically a knock on the door in the early evening and ten men outside with firearms – had tried to speak but had been ignored in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond and had died before their memories became interesting. Post-war Italy had been just too delicate a place to air anti-communist, let alone anti-partisan sentiments. It is only in the last fifteen years that the media and popular books have begun to cover partisan atrocities; atrocities that by some (controversial) estimates claimed the lives of more Italians in Italy than the Germans. (If you include Italian deaths outside Italy – Cephalonia, Auschwitz etc – then Germany rushes into first place.)

    All this got Beach thinking about ‘history-that-dare-not-speak-its-name’. Two readers (thanks to Invisible and James W) sent in this extraordinary article on another twentieth-century dare-not (to coin a phrase), the Great Famine in China (1958-1962) when perhaps forty million (the population of Spain or Poland) died of hunger due to the failures of collective agriculture. The USSR had Khrushchev who spoke out against Stalin and criticisms of Uncle Joe became possible already in the 1950s; in fact, they became, this being the Soviet Union, practically de rigeur. But in China there was never a convincing break with the Maoist past and hunger and death stayed out of textbooks and out of bar talk. The problem is that if evidence is not collected now – the link details one attempt – it will very soon be too late. Those adults who survived are elderly and their memory is already tottering. As in Italy, we’ll be relying on ‘children’…

    There, of course, must be dozens of dare-nots in our modern history books: horrific events that cannot be discussed until years later (if at all). Any notable examples? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    The three characteristics: (i) trauma, (ii) a political climate that does not allow discussion of said trauma and (iii) a lack of easy methods to publicise that trauma. On this subject will dare-nots even be possible in the internet age? As to the pre-modern period there is a case to be made that pretty much every unpleasant event was a dare not. It is depressing to think of the suffering and of what has been lost.


    9 June 2012: First up is Andy: Probably the biggest selection of “Dare-nots” is the many Isaraeli attrocities, which in many Western media are completely forbidden to be commented on, as anyone who does is often shouted down as an Anti-semite and Nazi.  Palestinian and Arab atrocities are celebrated in many Middle Eastern media, and negative comments are regarded as “Zionist” or “Islamophobic.” Another field is the attrocities commited by the Franco regime – the crimes were brushed under the carpet, and laws passed making investigating them illegal (1) and (2). Similar things have happened in other countries that have moved to democracy after brutal dictatorship. There is a related field, where people close ranks and say it is their culture, like the child brides and children sold into religious prostitution in India and Pakistan (1) and (2). Film documentary: I have now managed to thouroughly depress myself.  There are times I dispair for the human race. Not sure if you would want such a nasty subject in your blog, but without publicity there would be no pressure put on people to stop it. Diana writes: On the topic of dare-nots, I haven’t got any research on hand to give you, but a direction to point you: Almost anything that happened to indigenous American people after white people reached their vicinity (which can be the 1600s for the east cost, the 1800s for the midwest, and the 1900s for Alaska) I’ve lived in 3 areas that still have large populations of “Indians” – Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Alaska and if you are unprejudiced and take your time you can learn a lot. One dare-not was the management of “Indian Schools” which I still hear white “church people” who have never met a Native speak of in glowing terms. One close friend of mine in Alaska is the daughter of a man who was in the generation, now getting older that was taken away from family and put into “orphanages” to intentionally break the links to their culture to “civilize” them. In general these schools had common features – speaking Native languages were forbidden, christianity was usually forcefully imposed (although on Kodiak where he lived the Russians had brought it 2 centuries earlier) students were dressed in ‘respectable’ plain clothes and taught trades considered appropriate to their station. It’s actually pretty remarkably similar to the school featured in the Australian movie “Rabbit Proof Fence” in which the same educational method is imposed on Australian aborigines. This is a primary reason why many Native languages are nearly or completely extinct. I’m sure you can find a lot of other information about it if you search because recently the adults who endured this have been speaking out against their treatment as children. Of course, there is much, much more if you dig into the topic of their subjugation. Just a suggestion of a direction to travel for many more dare-nots.’ Nev Ing adds: If you haven’t met up with this marvellous book, make sure you get it soon. The author follows up with another – a biography of Mao Tzedong. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a family history that spans a century, recounting the lives of three female generations in China, by Chinese writer Jung Chang. First published in 1991, Wild Swans contains the biographies of her grandmother and her mother, then finally her own autobiography. The book won two awards: the 1992 NCR Book Award and the 1993 British Book of the Year.’ thanks Nev Ing, Andy and Diana!