Newspapers are a rough draft of history - a synthesis of what appears to be the most important events yesterday. They are earnest, if inherently incomplete, snapshots of our recent past.
If you could ask China scholar Song Yongyi about his work, he'd probably tell you that historians view the past through a wider and longer lens than journalists. They probe past our initial impressions in the search for truth.
We can't ask Mr. Song about this now, however; he's in a Beijing jail. His own probing through old newspapers in Beijing led to the Dickinson College librarian's arrest. Apparently, he was trying to find the truth about the Cultural Revolution. He's charged with stealing "state secrets." Spy or historian? If old public documents are now state secrets, how will other China scholars conduct their research?
But China's leadership is not alone. Facing the truth, particularly when it's ugly, is seldom comfortable. Take the Holocaust. As Peter Ford's story today notes, Germans are still wrestling over a memorial to millions of Jews killed by the Nazis.
Quote of note: "It tells you how a large part of the German population would rather have nothing, even if some people see the importance of acknowledging a uniquely heinous past." - Andrei Markovits.
Averting our eyes isn't confined to nationalities - or professions. Yesterday's Monitor reported on a video of war atrocities in Sierra Leone that is just now being aired. In this paper's coverage of Sierra Leone's civil strife, we have often opted not to include photos of atrocities, knowing our paper goes to homes with young children.
Still, it's the violence that often makes up the headlines of daily history "texts." To date, our own coverage of the conflict between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia has focused on the unrest. Today's story looks at the quieter side: Muslims and Christians working side by side in the Ambon market. And a town where a local priest and imam co-chair a crisis committee. They say that the answer to the violence is not less religion, but more.
Ultimately, most countries, like most people, try to learn from their mistakes. Progress depends on it.
David Clark Scott World editor
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