How Long Do We Have to Apologize?

Posted by dwallace on September 16, 2010 in Apologizing for history, Douglas Thomas Wallace |

On Monday, the Japanese Foreign Minister apologized to a W.W.II veteran group who had survived the Bataan Death March. The 90 year-old leader of the group was not satisfied with that. He wanted an apology from the private companies who, “used and abused,” prisoners in their mines and factories.

My grandpa is a W.W.II veteran so I’m not saying this lightly, but I wondered if all the Japanese families in Hiroshima and Nagasaki wouldn’t mind more than just an apology for having their entire city destroyed in a matter of seconds. I know, I know, they started it. I’ve been to the U.S.S Arizona memorial and have seen the oil that’s leaking out. But war is the ugliest thing on Earth and you can’t just apologize for it later, especially if you had nothing to do with it personally.

I was listening to the radio a few days ago and I heard two people arguing over the use of the “N-word.” One person arguing was a white lady, the other person was a black man, but both people were actually saying the N-word—on the radio!

So the white lady said what every white person says to each other when a black person is not around, “So why can you use the word so freely and we can’t?” The black man’s response was, “Well when you go through 150 years of slavery, then maybe you can use the word.”

There are some things that will probably never be ok to joke about: slavery, the holocaust and 9/11 are a few that to come to mind. But here’s my question, how long do we as people have to apologize for something we weren’t around for? I am 36 years old. World War II was over 30 years before I was even born and there hasn’t been slavery in the U.S for almost three times as long as W.W.II has been over. So why do we have to keep apologizing for things our ancestors did? You shouldn’t be required to apologize for history that you weren’t apart of. It’s like apologizing for your second-cousin selling drugs. The situation has nothing to do with you or your character.

Were these situations bad? Yes.
Am I responsible for them? No.

When I was growing up in Hawaii a friend of mine, who is Hawaiian said, “You haoles—white people—told us to look up to heaven for God and as we were looking up you stole our land.”

“I didn’t. I was born in 1974,” I said.

“Well your family did,” my friend said.

“My family’s from Missouri and has never even been to Hawaii. Well, except my grandparents who has visited Waikiki.”

“Well your ancestors did, way back,” he said.

“My ancestors are from Ireland and Scotland. They migrated to Maryland in the late 1600’s and the last I heard, the Scots-Irish are not the ones who stole your land.”

“Fine, maybe they didn’t steal our land. But they stole the Indians.”

“Can’t argue with that,” I said.

But do I have to apologize for it? Do I have to say I’m sorry for everything my family has done before 1974? History is messy people. But it’s history, learn from it and move on.

A person I know says, “It’s called history. Or his-story, everyone’s is different.” But I’ve also been told that there’s three sides to every story, his story, your story and the truth. History needs to be studied or we’ll be doomed to repeat it. But my plea is please learn from it, and then let it go.

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