Correspondence

Truth and Reconciliation

On the day my Brazilian student gave me the kind of reverent statements about Nelson Mandela that I would expect of such a fierce socialist, he also gave me an interesting history lesson.  He reminded me of the coup that had led to 21 years of military rule in Brazil and said that, since the military had voluntarily relinquished power to the civilians, Brazil had not only had subsequent peaceful changes of administration, but one president had been forced to resign from office because of corruption.  My student was proud of the way his country had handled the resignation, because the rule of law had prevailed.  I thought he had good reason to be pleased, but, from my point of view, he dropped the ball when he added, with a disapproving tone, that the Brazilian military had been given an amnesty when they handed power over to civilians.  He couldn’t see that Brazil could move from military dictatorship to stable democracy because of the very amnesty he despises.  When the military voluntarily handed over power, something had to be given to them in return.  

Other countries have made a similar deal with their rulers in order to remove them from power, the people renouncing revenge in hopes of achieving a peaceful transition.  Their experience sheds light on our own lives.  

In the 1970’s, the Argentine military took power because of the growing threat of a leftist underground. ...

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