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I would like to formally apologize for my personal involvement in the mindless destruction of cities and cultures during the slaughter of over 17 million people by the Timurid Empire during the late 14th century.
I also freely admit that I did absolutely nothing and said nothing to stop the atrocities committed during the third Mithridatic War (73-63 B.C.).
I have no excuse and I really do apologize. For any Armenians who survived those massacres, I will gladly compensate them for my involvement. Salt was pretty valuable back then. Would five pounds of salt clean the slate?
Last June, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution to formally apologize for the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow” segregation. Earlier last year, the Senate apologized for “atrocities and historical mistreatment of Native Americans” and back in the 1980s, Congress apologized for the treatment of Japanese Americans in internment camps during WWII.
Since our elected officials represent the people — all the people — this begs the question, “Who exactly is apologizing to whom?”
Are all citizens of the United States apologizing to all citizens of the United States? Did my representative just tell me that I apologized to myself?
And what exactly am I, or you, apologizing for? I’ve never owned any slaves. I’m fairly certain that I’ve never broken any treaties with the early American Indians (or with later ones either). And I definitely never interned any Japanese Americans. Now, I have in fact done many things in my life that merit apologies, mostly involving tormenting my family and friends with math trivia and lame jokes. It is well known that math puns are the first sine of madness.
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with apologizing and I’m certainly not defending how Americans in the past treated minorities. Our heritage includes some pretty nasty things done in the names of freedom, security and even liberty.
When those 13 stripes and 50 stars are flapping so proudly in the breeze, they represent over 230 years of institutionalized oppression and misuse of power. But hey, if we didn’t want a little oppression now and then, why would we ever form governments?
As usual, I do digress. History books of the future will almost certainly criticize many of the things being done today and people (of the future) will excuse our present actions as stupidities of the past.
That’s just the way life works. Screw up and let your children say you’re sorry. The essential problem with governments is that they’re comprised of people and people are essentially clueless when it comes to learning from the past.
So anyway, back to the apologies. Since our leaders believe it both good and necessary to apologize for transgressions of the past, why stop at slavery? Early Americans were immigrants from many countries and their heritage is our heritage.
It’s a rich heritage loaded with atrocities, abuse and intolerance that spans the ages of civilization (or the lack thereof).
Isn’t it about time we apologize to the Zunghar people for the massacres during the Qing dynasty? For the destruction of Carthage by the Romans? For the millions murdered during the An Lushan revolt? Or the Ottoman Empire’s treatment of the Assyrians? And what about the Spanish Inquisition? (I bet nobody expected that!)
What we seem to be apologizing for is history.
Well, early Americans had slaves. Many of our Founding Fathers owned slaves — (e.g., Patrick Henry, George Wythe, John Randolph). Twelve U.S. presidents owned slaves, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Andrew Johnson. Yes, President Johnson, Lincoln’s vice-president, owned slaves before the Civil War. Clearly, we should apologize for electing these early presidents.
Come to think of it, we should apologize for electing some of the later ones too.
Here’s the deal – you can do anything you want, abuse anyone you want, mistreat and exploit anyone and everyone.
Then wait and have your children’s children’s children apologize on your behalf and voilà! You’re free of guilt! Let someone else shoulder up the responsibility.
I do apologize if it sounds like I’m trivializing real issues of the past.
But I’d ask you to look at the way we treat people in the present. Are all Americans afforded basic human rights today? Are people in love allowed to marry without debate of their personal lives?
Do we allow any willing citizen to serve their country by joining the military? Do we deny people their rights based on their beliefs, their sexual preference, their weight, their religion, their looks?
Have we learned anything in 233 years ... or will our children’s children be busy apologizing for us?