In 1967, when Obama was six…

“History Could Be Swallowed Up So Completely”


.. The most important and painful realities of any society’s past tend to be forgotten unless constant efforts are made to remember them.

Intriguingly, one of the most eloquent descriptions of this phenomenon is found in Barack Obama’s autobiography “Dreams From My Father.”

In 1967, when Obama was six, he and his mother joined his stepfather Lolo Soetoro in Indonesia — just two years after one of the most astonishing bloodbaths of the 20th century had taken place there. Suharto, an Indonesian general, had seized power in 1965 and with U.S. support massacred at least 500,000 leftists and communists over just a few months.

Yet on the surface, Obama writes, there was sign of this. His stepfather refused to speak of the past, and his mother learned of it only from “innuendo” and “half-whispered asides” from Americans when she went to work at the U.S. embassy. According to Obama, this is the lesson she took from this:

The idea frightened her, the notion that history could be swallowed up so completely, the same way the rich and loamy earth could soak up the rivers of blood that had once coursed through the streets; the way people could continue about their business … as if nothing had happened. …

Power. The word fixed in my mother’s mind like a curse. In America, it had generally remained hidden from view until you dug beneath the surface of things; until you visited an Indian reservation or spoke to a black person whose trust you had earned. But here power was undisguised, indiscriminate, naked … And so Lolo had made his peace with power, learned the wisdom of forgetting.

Americans today are fortunate that the penalties for remembering our past, while real, are much less severe than in many other times and places. If we truly aspire to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, we should be able to examine the real history of the “Star Spangled Banner” — and most importantly, the degree to which that history is still alive today. Our current difficulty in facing our past honestly and soberly strongly suggests that we are still a long way from laying it to rest.


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