Remembering negative pasts

Journal Article


Journal Title

Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Comparative Studies

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

The author reviews Donald W. Shriver's Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).The title and subtitle of this book may mislead, for it is not primarily a study of the meaning of patriotism, but rather a kind of commentary, and often a very personal one, of the way three countries have remembered, or failed to remember, past “misdeeds.” As the three countries include the United States and South Africa, a review in these pages seems appropriate. Though the bulk of this book is concerned with the United States, Shriver begins with a chapter on Germany, followed by a chapter on South Africa. Though his book is addressed to “we Americans,” it has significance beyond the United States. Shriver shares the angst of American liberals about the rise of antiAmericanism and the way the image of the country has, in the era of “the war against terror” and the Iraq war, taken a beating. Many of the issues the book raises are as relevant for South Africa as for either of the two other countries it concerns. As we shall see, Shriver believes there are lessons for the United States to learn from Germany and South Africa (e.g., 125). While the “misdeeds” of his subtitle include the most appalling atrocities imaginable, the spirit of his book is, he insists, “celebratory: how some of us…recover facts and images of painful historical pasts for the sake of honouring those who suffered them and for committing our societies to ‘never again’” (209).