In 2012, the concentrated eruption of disputes in East Asia, the continued conflict between Pakistan and Israel both suggest that the haunting history has been and even is increasingly to be sources of distrust, hatred, and thus conflicts in the world. As the 20th century passed away, the 21st century has brought us a difficult task as how to deal with our tumultuous past. I hope that the world in the new century would be a world that can be at peace with its past—it would not be mired in the historical grievances, but would instead look into possibilities of the future.
William Faulkner once said: “The past is never dead, it is not even past.” This still holds truth today. Decades and even centuries on, our uncomfortable historical legacies have lingered on, troubling most of us, and shadowing the peace and stability of the world. For one thing, the enormous contrast between the past and the present has given birth to confusion and thus self-contradiction inside many countries. Russians, for example, are ambitious to rebuild their past while still feeling shame about the Yeltsin years. This coexistence of both pride and inferior complex composes ambivalence, which further leads to the at-times irrationality and overhaste in Russia’s conduct. For another, sufferings in the past have factored in hatred and hostility at the present. One of the latest examples lies in this year’s East Asia, where the emergence of a range of territorial disputes rooted in history has provoked more broadly mutual hatred that had prevailed for long. A bloodier example is the enduring conflicts between Pakistan and Israel, in which the intertwining history has accounted for the death of tens of thousands. The past seems holding our world back, hampering it from stepping into the future.
Therefore I see an urgent and acute need for mankind to develop a proper way to look at and to handle historical issues, especially considering that the tumultuous 20th century has just gone away. With this regard, the world that I vision for the 21st century would be a world that is at peace with its past, where people would view history in a milder and more respectful manner, thus the world could move into the possibility of a greater future. Being at peace with the past firstly means that we should accept history as it is. Uncomfortable though it is at times, history should never be denied or distorted. This is because history is what brings us to where we are and what produces the problems that we face.Any denial and distortion of it brings but confusion about ourselves, about principles, and about the world we live in. What’s more, denial and distortion of history risks pushing us to the same mistakes we had made, because “history repeat itself”.
Secondly, to make peace with the past, I think all should try interpreting the history from the perspectives of others’. This is similar to what Robert McNamara proposed: “to empathize with your enemy”. The purpose is to raise humane care towards our enemy, and more importantly, to develop a more objective perspective towards history. Mutual hatred, while owes its origin to historical grievances, is often agitated by a narrow and partial view of history. At last, I think sometimes it is necessary to let go. Why 50 years at war are remembered but thousand years of peace is not? Why should the wrongs committed by the people in the past be paid back by their later generations? And how much do we gain through the belated revenge? The history of European Union has demonstrated to us that letting go historical grievances is not only possible, but also profitable. It may serve as a model for other troubled regions of the world.
When I say a world at peace with the past, what I mean by “peace” is not necessarily the state of no wars or disputes, but rather, it describes a state of mind: inner harmony, healthy ego, etc. So in the 21st century world I vision, there might still be disputes over historical issues, but people would look at them more objectively and rationally, and deal with it with mutual respect and humanity. The past will remain embarrassed at times, but instead of reviewing its bitterness again and again, I hope that human beings could focus more on the possibilities of the present, and of the future. Because after all, we are currently the makers of history, and it is up to us that what kind of legacy we will pass on to our next generations.