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Put the Future First


Published: 11/08/2014

by Jim Campbell

One of the longest, hardest-fought contests for supremacy took place in the wars between Carthage and Rome over who would be the master

of the western Mediterranean. Both sides suffered terrible defeats and won glorious victories.


You may recall the amazing feat pulled off by Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, when he marched his army – including war elephants – on precarious narrow tracks over high Alpine passes, down into Italy, where he caught the Romans by surprise. It was a logistical achievement regarded with awe to this very day by military historians.


In the end, the Romans, led by Scipio, took the war to North Africa, devised tactics to neutralize the effectiveness of war elephants, and totally defeated the Carthaginians. Scipio and Hannibal met face to face to negotiate the terms of surrender. There, Hannibal said, “Not even you can find Sicily and Sardinia adequate compensation for the loss of so many fleets and armies and the deaths of so many fine officers. But what is done is done – it may be censured, but it cannot be altered.”


Today, protesters who hit the streets chanting “No justice, no peace” have it all wrong. The demand for justice, when both sides have their lists of wrongs and abuses, makes finding resolution – a way forward – extremely difficult. Leaving the past behind in

the cause of peace is an honourable endeavour.


For example, setting aside the past played a key role in ending the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland and the peace settlements after the Second World War that led to the rebuilding of Europe and the reconstruction of Japan. Roger Cohen of the New York Times made this suggestion in 2012: “Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts begins with an acceptance that there is no just outcome, none. Enough Jews and Arabs have died trying to prove the rightness of their cause. Jewish and Arab narratives will never coincide.

But peoples with different views of history can decide to put the future first.”


What has all that to do with you and me? The search for justice and redress runs deep in the human psyche. It is the first priority in countless conflicts as a reasonable precondition for moving forward. People say: “She must admit she did wrong.” “He has to own up to the part he played in what happened.” “The least they can do is apologize; is that too much to ask?”


In our everyday lives – okay, in our arguments at least – we are far too quick to reiterate our well-rehearsed litanies of injustices, about all the injustices we’ve endured, what was said and wasn’t said, done and not done. The demand for justice keeps wounds open and blocks the chance for resolution.


The stalemate can be broken. Hannibal’s words point the way: “… it may be censured, but it cannot be altered.” There is a path away from the unfixable past to a better future.

It is not easy. It takes courage and resolve on both sides, with all the lessons learned, to fiercely grasp the future with all its possibilities. In an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, like you and me, it’s probably the only sane way forward.

The past can’t be fixed but there is a future to be built.


Jim Campbell is an Oakville author, writer and longtime contributor to Home Digest. We welcome your comments on this column at



Illustration for Home Digest by Rui Ramalheiro

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