The Decade of Atonement

The fashion for “apologies” is growing. For offenders, they draw a line under the past. But reparations are seldom discussed.

1988 United States The Civil Liberties Act “apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States” for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

1993 United States Public Law 103-150 “acknowledge[s] the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and offer[s] an apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.”

1995 Japan In June, the Japanese government apologizes to the 200,000 “comfort women” forced into military-run brothels during WWII and starts a compensation fund as “an expression of atonement on the part of the people of Japan to these women.”

1996 Germany/Czech Republic German officials apologize for the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and establish a fund for the reparation of Czech victims of Nazi abuses.

1997 United States President Bill Clinton issues an official apology to the survivors of a government experiment that caused 400 black men with syphilis to go untreated without their knowledge. The White House spokesperson says that “the president feels we have a moral obligation.”

1997 Ireland The Christian Brothers apologize for cruelty and sexual abuse suffered by students in their schools over many years: “Children and their families have been hurt and betrayed by abusive behavior.”

1997 France French Catholic bishops apologize for their complicity in the Holocaust at the site of the Drancy transit camp, from which many Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

1998 Canada The government of Canada apologizes to its aboriginal people for suppressing their languages and cultures.

1998 Japan Ryutaro Hashimoto, Japanese prime minister, expresses ‘deep remorse’ for Japan’s treatment of British POWs in WWII.

1998 Australia The Anglican Church apologizes for its participation in the policy of forcibly removing aboriginal children from their mothers, suggesting that “to aboriginal people an apology carries a weight that many white Australians have scarcely begun to understand.”

1998 Rome The Vatican apologizes for its silence and inaction in defense of the Jews during WWII, but stops short of criticizing Pope Pius XII.

1998 United States President Clinton on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda: “The international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy as well. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for killers.” In Uganda on the slave trade: “The United States has not always done the right thing by Africa. European Americans received the fruits of the slave trade and we were wrong in that.”

From Index on Censorship (May/June 1998). Subscriptions: $52/yr. (6 issues) from Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London, N1 9LH UK.

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