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And yet I know what language to use when I speak of those days I didn’t live through; I learned it in school. I condemn people who say revolution instead of coup; I think reparation should have been kept in the original title of the commission; and whether a commission is or isn’t based on a longing to take revenge is to me beside the point — the term revanchismo should be rejected, rather than seriously engaged. At school I perfected this ability to speak of a past that wasn’t mine to such a point that, for quite a long time, I couldn’t dissociate Brazil’s military dictatorship from the sterility of high school classrooms. The subject had the same aura of boredom that permeated the topography of the Amazon, polynomials, the life cycle of Platyhelminthes—any subject that appeared in an exam. If Pinochet was an old man who interrupted the cartoon schedule, then to me the Brazilian dictatorship was a collection of GDP graphs, weird names of generals, and maps in dark green and lighter shades of green.
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There is something ironic about the categorical names given to these commissions and their temporary nature. It’s as though the authorities, by the use of some definitive language, wish to force closure on an issue before even addressing it. The word truth is by far the most ubiquitous. It is everywhere: in statements, in the commission’s name, in speeches, in depositions. In 2008, when the NTC was still in its embryonic stages, then minister of defense Nelson Jobim criticized the use of the word justice in the commission’s title (initially, the group was to be called the National Truth and Justice Commission). Jobim argued that justice was too strong a word (one wonders how he’d react to an expletive); he implied that the word was offensive to the armed forces. Jobim suggested it be replaced with reconciliation. Other members of the government disagreed. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president at the time, withdrew the word justice, but neglected to replace it — a decision that left everyone dissatisfied. The word truth, however, remained; either because it meant too much, or, more likely, because it meant nothing.