Clarence Page // Apology For Slavery Is Too Little When It Comes Too Late

June 18, 1997|By Clarence Page // Apology For Slavery Is Too Little When It Comes Too Late – tribunedigital-chicagotribune – WASHINGTON — President Clinton says he is thinking about issuing an apology to us black Americans for slavery.

I would prefer that he didn’t. I’ve got too much corn in my diet already.

Welcome to the age of contrition. Suddenly it has become fashionable for world leaders to apologize for truly awful things past governments of their countries did. It’s easy, it’s heartwarming and there’s no cost, as long as no one in your current government is directly to blame.

Clinton recently apologized to the black men who were used as human guinea pigs in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment. At about the same time, British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued an apology of sorts to the Irish for the potato famine that occurred 150 years ago.

History may mark the beginning of the Age of Contrition with President Ronald Reagan’s issuing an official apology for the internment of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

Japan’s government later expressed “deep remorse” for its aggression during World War II. Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto also apologized to Korea for Japan’s keeping of captured Korean women as “comfort women” during the war.

Of course, apology does not have to be an empty exercise. It made sense, for example, for President Clinton to express regrets to Japan for the rape of a young girl in Okinawa by American servicemen. Coming as it did after an American military court martial had convicted the servicemen, the apology symbolized the outrage felt by all humane Americans and our government’s commitment to insuring that such outrages will not go unpunished.

At least when Reagan apologized to Japanese-Americans, the federal government put a little money behind it. Each survivor was paid $20,000 in reparations, although the amount was a token, compared to the enormous losses many suffered unjustly in property and income.

There is also a decent argument to be made for the idea that apology helps the healing process to begin in wounded relationships. That is why at least a dozen members of Congress have called for an apology to all of us black Americans whose ancestors were slaves.

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