News

Friday, February 19, 2021, The Globe and Mail

“He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future,” wrote George Orwell in his iconic work, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Or, put differently, as I asked in my book, Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History, who gets to decide what happened yesterday?

Orwell’s statement, and my question, were written upon a subliminal screen that hovered over the U.S. Senate chamber last week. For what took place in that famed history-soaked room was a critical contest of competing narratives about how Americans, and the world at large, will understand the country whose myth making describes itself as “the city on the hill,” as an example to everyone of how they should live and govern. [more]

Wednesday January 27, 2021, The Globe and Mail

“The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.” – Robert H. Jackson, opening address at the Nuremberg trials in November 1945

Although the recent attack on the seat of the United States government was not comparable to the events addressed by the Nuremberg Tribunal, which tried genocidal war crimes, Justice Robert Jackson’s prescient words about accountability directly apply. The putsch against the United States Capitol was an act of domestic terrorism – a major criminal offence; and as Mr. Jackson put it, such crimes cannot tolerate being ignored because civilization (or democracy) cannot survive their being repeated. [more]

Monday November 16, 2020, The Globe and Mail

When my children were young, derisive “Newfie” jokes were all the rage. I didn’t allow them in my house; I’d lived in France as a student and learned enough about pre-war history to know that plural societies can exist peacefully only within an ethos of mutual respect.

Which is why both France and the United States have evolved into tragic political entities. Both their foundational ideologies are dangerously anachronistic.

Take the recent atrocities in France following the conduct of a teacher who pulled out the same caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that provoked major violence in the past. There is no possible excuse for his monstrous medieval-style murder, or for the others that occurred after. But to understand circumstance is neither to assign blame nor to condone violence, a fact historians must constantly emphasize. That France houses almost six million Muslims, the largest population in the West, makes it critical to understand the impact of the Prophet Mohammed caricatures in that country. [more]

Friday October 16, 2020, The Globe and Mail

The International Criminal Court is facing a life-threatening crisis. The International Criminal Court has received “gifts” with the potential to enhance its profile and reputation. Surprisingly, both these statements are true. And both have the capacity to affect the future of the tribunal.

The crisis derives from unprecedented sanctions imposed by the Trump administration last month on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her associates. The sanctions blocked their personal assets, prevented them from entering the U.S., and indirectly grouped them together with terrorists – a move that outraged much of the world with the exception of Israel, whose military personnel are also being investigated for war crimes. The sanctions also threatened anyone who gives support of any kind to the ICC. [more]

Monday July 27, 2020, The Globe and Mail

Last week, a Hamburg state court found Bruno Dey, 93, a former SS tower guard at the Stutthof concentration camp, guilty of complicity in 5,232 counts of murder: the exact number of human beings destroyed during his tenure there in 1944-45.

Because Mr. Dey was a boy of 17 when he took up his duties, he was tried in a juvenile court (where the sight of an elderly man in a wheelchair must have startled the staff). The prosecution sought a three-year prison sentence; the defence called for an acquittal on grounds that such a young person would have been incapable of standing up to his elders in the name of conscientious refusal. The judge, for her part, decided on a suspended sentence of two years. A symbolic punishment.

In the aftermath, the usual questions were raised. Why bother trying someone for a crime committed so long ago, even if the law allows it? Why prosecute a man of 93 whose life was drawing to a natural close? What choice did he have? He had made a public apology at the close of his trial. Shouldn’t that be enough? Finally, might a merely symbolic verdict actually diminish the appalling nature of his offence? [more]