Thomas Laqueur, 18 June 2020
Coming to terms with the past in the United States is a different temporal matter. At issue is the entire national past: it is four hundred years since African slaves came to these shores, more than a hundred and fifty since the Thirteenth Amendment made African Americans full citizens; almost sixty since the longest-lived legally grounded racial regime in world history ended with the legislation and judicial decisions of the 1960s. This is a past that demands we explain not, as in the German case, the reason we succumbed to an evil ideology, but the reason it has been so difficult to do what Lincoln hoped for at Gettysburg, to rededicate ourselves to the proposition that all men are created equal and to come to an agreement about what this might mean. Ten years as against four centuries makes a big difference. Comparison is a mug’s game on this timescale. The presence or absence of victims’ descendants is also of huge significance in the comparative emotional history of atonement.