This week marks eight years since the Boston Marathon bombing. While Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had his death sentence commuted last year, the Supreme Court plans to review this decision—and has the potential to overturn it. As debates on the death penalty resurface, with opponents often chastised “for being soft,” we revisited a Boston Review essay published just after Tsarnaev’s sentencing that offers an evergreen truth: granting mercy is among humanity’s hardest tasks.
Indeed, in a recent essay, law professor Joseph Margulies argues that while forgiveness is a public good, it is doled out unevenly. Commenting on the New York Times’s sympathetic profile of Capitol insurrectionist Klete Keller, where “the first and last image for the reader is of Keller sobbing and remorseful,” Margulies suggests that rather than scoffing at such a portrayal, what if we extended the same spirit of compassionate forgiveness to every criminal defendant?
This is the same question that Boston Review regular Judith Levine has asked us to consider in multiple of her essays, which consider carceral feminism. It is with that challenge in mind that we dive into the tricky business of forgiveness in this weekend’s reading list. From that which should be forgiven (student loans) to people who perhaps shouldn’t (see Chris Lebron on Joe Biden’s record on race), to whether grudge-bearing is preferable to mercy (and what centuries of philosophers say on the matter), the pieces below ask whether we all deserve forgiveness. If we do, what are its limits? And why is it often so hard to forgive?
Finally, a cache of recent essays consider conflict, forgiveness, and justice from an international perspective. Last month Ariella Aïsha Azoulay argued that France’s new attempt to heal its relationship with Algeria means little until it acknowledges its treatment of Arab Jews. Erica X Eisen also revisited the “other” Nuremberg Trials—where Nazi businessmen walked free as part of the Cold War quest to protect capitalism. In separate contributions, Hari Ramesh and Colleen Murphy both consider the limits of victim’s justice. “Forgiveness and isolated instances of victim compensation and perpetrator punishment do nothing to change the sources of racial oppression,” the latter comments. “Healing of communities can only occur if we first understand what is damaged, and damage can only be repaired if it is truly acknowledged and addressed.”
Failures in prosecuting the businessmen who profited from the Nazi war machine show just how far postwar Europe and America were willing to go in the Cold War quest to protect capitalism.