Being American Means Never Having to Say “I’m Sorry”

Read it and weep?

America doesn’t apologize.

Not to those who’ve been used, abused, and enslaved on American soil. Not to those culled in a genocidal land grab. Not to those crushed by the wheels of finance.

And never, ever does America apologize to other nations—no matter the cost of the carpet bombing, the toll taken by weapons of mass destruction, the suffering inflicted by propped-up dictators or the futures stolen by artfully-packaged adventurism.


Although we as individuals often rely on apologies to keep our relationships, our jobs and our sanity, the very idea of apologizing for painful wrongs and for stolen rights is seen as the worst sort of weakness one could display in the arena of American Exceptionalism.

It is a dominant theme—both in our history and in our politics.

So much so, that Mitt Romney has made it the centerpiece of his otherwise hazy foreign policy. So much so, that he actually titled his presidential sales pitch “No Apology.” Team Romney goes so far as to frame the refusal to apologize as a nearly metaphysical expression of “American values.”

To err may be human, but to ask forgiveness? Well, that’s not divine. That’s un-American.

Does that mean we are not fully human?

It certainly means we are all-too-often quite willing to play god. Like Thomas Jefferson did with his slaves. Like the South did during Jim Crow. Like the so-called “Winning of the West” did to an entire race of human beings.

None of these catastrophic, morally repulsive scars on the American consciousness warrant even the barest of rhetorical flourishes during the passing political seasons. Nor have they. Even throughout recent history those foundational errors have been perennially dismissed as little more than ancient history.

Black Americans eventually got the vote. And they got the “opportunity” to see combat. Heck, they’ve even got a President. That’s kinda like an apology, right?

American Indians got a seat at the table. Reservations for how many? Well, how many are left? The consolation prize of casinos does have some poetic justice built into it, but the de facto genocide of a continent full of human beings remains a fundamental truth bulging under the middle of an increasingly frayed rug.

But we needn’t look back that far to see just how glaring America’s national mistakes can be, or just how far we must go to make peace with others and with ourselves.

There is no place in Washington, D.C. quite as compelling, nor any monument quite as bone-chilling and starkly moving, as the Vietnam Memorial. There are 58,261 names currently engraved on the black granite—which has been polished so that we can see our own reflection amongst the names of the fallen.

What we do not see is the number of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians who lost their lives in a war of America’s imperial choice. A war started on dubious, if not false, pretenses. A war that saw massive damage inflicted upon villages, towns, cities and hamlets, and took the lives of men, women and children. The number is sometimes listed as high as 3 million. Some still pay the price for the use of chemical weapons. Yet, even the Democrats’ darling Bill Clinton said in 2009 that America does not owe the people of Vietnam an apology.

This self-satisfied truculence is truly a bi-partisan affair.

Nowhere is it more apparent that America’s latest stains—the destruction of Iraq and the War on Terror (or War of Terror, depending upon what side of the waterboard or joystick you are on).

Even worse than the foggy wargames in the Gulf of Tonkin, the invasion of Iraq was beyond a war of choice. It was a war of packaging. Manufactured like the consent it initially garnered, the invasion was America at its greediest, most callow and least reflective. The conflation of 9/11 with the sad, battered regime of a dictator America once supported and armed may be the lowest point in just over a half-century of low points—including Vietnam, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and  the Congo.

Shock and Awe gave way to white phosphorus and depleted uranium. The blitzkrieg of Baghdad opened the doors to Abu Ghraib, which “processed” a generation of Iraqi men. And all the while, the ‘Provisional Authority” did little more than launder taxpayer money for a bevy of contractors who had lined up to cheer the anthrax vial and the mushroom cloud.

America has now left—provisionally. Iraq’s constitution and key economic laws have been rewritten to favor Western corporations and “interests.” The nation is a shambles of tribal and regional warfare. Birth defects that began after the first Gulf War continue to rear an ugly, disfigured head. The government is brutal, repressive and reliant upon executions. And the Arab world’s largest, most educated and secular middle class is now just a faint memory.

But there will be no apologies.

Not from a Republican. And, despite how much they try to tarnish Democrats with the “stench of apology,” we’ll hear only a deafening silence from that side, too.

For a nation so imbued with its own grandiosity, so clear in its messianic purpose and divine calling from the Almighty, it is amazing just how little grace it displays. Like a well-armed, badly tempered alcoholic, America is in desperate need of a Twelve Step program to peel back the layers of denial.

And the first thing America must admit—and, frankly, we all must admit—is that it and we have a serious problem.

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'Being American Means Never Having to Say “I’m Sorry”' have 3 comments

  1. October 15, 2012 @ 5:16 pm Romney Sorry

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  2. October 15, 2012 @ 6:57 pm Tom O'Neill

    My only concern is that the encounter with reality to which this reflection summons us may, by now, have become quite simply one which we generally cannot appropriate. This is as eloquent and concise a statement against American exceptionalism as I have seen. When, however, one sins habitually against the light, one becomes incapable of insight. As one learns to guard one’s ears against complaint, one loses the power to hear. I speak a truism, of course. But IS there still a critical mass of alert Americans to effect the intervention our case requires?

  3. October 16, 2012 @ 10:38 am Earthspeakorg

    America did apologize to the Japanese who were locked up during WWII. But a week later, we announced formation of Guantanamo detentions after 9/11. Just shows how bogus the whole idea of apologies & forgiveness are.

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