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The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices

3.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801868078
ISBN-10: 0801868076
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The negotiations over Holocaust restitution that have made headlines during the past few years make this philosophical inquiry into the issue a timely monograph. As the author writes, "world morality--not to say, human nature--changed in March 1997," when the Swiss announced they were creating a humanitarian fund for victims of the Holocaust because of profits made from Nazi-looted gold. Indeed, questions of reparations for victims of atrocities erupted all over the globe in the past decade--and Barkan, who teaches history and cultural studies at Claremont Graduate University, takes a chapter-by chapter tour of these questions, covering such topics as Japanese restitution for enslaving Korean "comfort women" during WWII, Australian compensation for Aborigines, even the possibility of U.S. reparations for slavery. This work yields comparative nuggets--e.g., that the Japanese, unlike the Germans, do not feel a strong sense of collective guilt--and any reader who wades through this dense work will become educated about the weights and balances involved in restitution issues. The author also shows how restitution can bring two peoples together. In the case of the Germans and the Jews, restitution enabled "mourning to serve as a way to deal with melancholy, victimization, national repression and self- hate." Although Barkan favors restitution, because "alternative potential resolutions are too often frustrating and less effective," he covers these topics thoroughly and dispassionately. But the author's strength is also a weakness. His mild stance makes this book feel like a fruit that is difficult to open and, once opened, not as sweet as one would like. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Beneath a layer of academic jargon, this is a novel and thought-provoking work. Barkan (historical and cultural studies, Claremont Graduate Univ.) explores the increasingly widespread practice by which nation-states, impelled by "liberal guilt." Strive to make restitution for past injustices. Tragic episodes, such as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, fuel this guilt, and Barkan attributes the impulse to atone for historical wrongs to an emerging "neo-Enlightenment morality" that augments the classical liberal conception of individual rights with a vaguely defined set of group rights. To redress historical wrongs, the perpetrators (or their descendants) negotiate terms of restitution with aggrieved minorities. Restitution may include an apology, reparations, or the return of cultural treasures. The author suggests that by negotiating an agreed interpretation of history, the parties can transcend festering animosities and ultimately attain true conflict resolution. Recommended for libraries specializing in public policy.
James R. Holmes, Ph.D. candidate, Fletcher Sch. of Law & Diplomacy, Belmont, MA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (October 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801868076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801868078
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Those who love to feel guilty will applaud the book." How cynical! I'd have let it pass if it weren't for the "17 of 20 people (who) found the following review (by Derek Parker) helpful." Parker, like most white Australians, is totally into denial that the genocide started by invaders 213 years ago is the one and only cause for the abject state of the indigenous peoples who have not ceded sovereignty. Nine out of 10 were wiped out by slaughter, starvation, disease and dispersal from their lands. Massacres were still happening within the life spans of present-day parents and grandparents. Indigenous Australians live 20 years less on average than other people in the country. I could bore you with endless statistics testifying to the continuing devastation of Australia's First Peoples through the ongoing white war on them: deprival of education, health care, jobs, 20 times the normal imprisonment rate, etc., etc. What Parker obviously doesn't like is that the tyranny of distance no longer works and White Australia's crimes are more and more in the world spotlight, including in this book. Australia is getting plenty of stick in international bodies for not living up to human rights agreements it has signed up to. The issue is if not the biggest, then one of the biggest on the national agenda. Parker and his camp would be yelling loudest if present-day Germans were to shirk their responsibility for restitution to the Jews. Yet to him Australian perpetrators are sacrosanct. Parker alleges that "Barkan acts as if there are no difficult questions at all" in regard to the Aborigines, and "Largely, he accepts the claims put forward by the wronged group, dismissing contrary arguments.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I hesitate to write a review of this book because I am reluctant to critique a very noble and dilligent effort by Barkan to document reparations movements and issues from throughout the world; I can only imagine the time and effort it took to write this. It's very well documented, and I cited it in my research. I just didn't find it very engaging personally, but that doesn't mean that others won't find it meaningful.
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Format: Hardcover
Barkan has to be commended, at least, for taking on a huge subject: the attempts of groups, seen increasingly over the past quarter-century, who have been the victims of government policies and wrongdoing to seek recognition and redress. The Guilt of Nations has introductory and concluding sections that thoughtfully discuss the issues involved, trying to establish a general framework. Philosophically and practically, it's a tough subject. There is, in liberal societies, an ongoing tension between individual and group rights, and limits on government resources. The particular circumstances of the wrongdoing also have to be examined. Barkan, as a means of illustrating the problems, looks at the post-war restitution by Germany to Jews; and, in a concluding section, examines the difficulty of compensating Black Americans for slavery. These parts of the book are well-considered and well-argued. The problem of The Guilt of Nations lies with the case studies that make up the middle section of the book, especially in the chapters dealing with indigenous groups. Here, Barkan acts as if there are no difficult questions at all. Largely, he accepts the claims put forward by the wronged group, dismissing contrary arguments. Indeed, in the chapter on Aboriginal issues in Australia ( a subject this reviewer happens to know something about ) his selection of evidence seems so one-sided as to almost be misleading. There is (in this same chapter) a number of straightforward errors that make one wonder whether his agenda is not more important to Barkan (who is an academic historian) than the facts. He seems to assume that the fact that someone has been wronged makes anything they say automatically correct.Read more ›
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