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I’m Sorry, I Just Had to Vent

The government of the State of Delaware apologized – in 2015 – for its support centuries ago of slavery.

Well, it’s about time.  (Was it not sorry in 2014 for its support of slavery?)  But the apologizers here are not the actual offenders.  The latter turned to dust long ago.

Did you ever notice that governments apologize a lot – but almost never for actions committed by anyone currently in the government, or even currently alive?  All government apologies – or at least the ones that I can recall – are for wrongs committed decades, or even centuries ago.  Can anyone recall an apology by a government official or officials – in his or her or their official capacity – for a government policy that was undertaken within, say, a decade or less of the apology?  I can’t.

I’m not here asking about apologies for personal indiscretions, for strategic or tactical errors, or for breaches of official protocol.  I’m asking instead about formal government apologies for policies implemented and enforced by the apologizing government.

I predict, for example, that Uncle Sam will one day apologize – as he damn well should – to the Japanese people for inexcusably dropping two nuclear bombs on hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in August 1945.  But I cannot conceive such an apology coming during my lifetime, or even during the likely lifetime of my son.  This apology will come, at the earliest, in the waning years of the 21st century or, more likely, sometime during the 22nd century.  (And the apology will certainly not come from the man who gave the final go-ahead to commit such wanton slaughter: Harry Truman.)

Imagine if we conducted our personal affairs as governments conduct their affairs: even the most atrocious and grievous wrongs that we commit would be apologized for, not by those of us who commit the offenses, but only by our grandchildren or great-grandchildren – people who had no hand at all in the commission of the now-formally-apolgized-for wrongs.  Who would take such apologies seriously?  “Great-great-grandchildren of armed robber apologizes for their ancestors’ wrongful acts.”  How meaningless can an apology be?

Government officials specialize in imposing the costs of their actions on others.  This miserable reality holds even when it comes to the costs of apologizing for government’s (many) wrongful actions.