Historical Apologies (May 9th)

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Welcome to This Day in Today,

My name is Tom Keefe, and I’m the Babbling Professor!

~May 9~

On this day, May 9, 1945, hundreds of Algerian civilians were killed by French Army soldiers in the Sétif massacre. The initial outbreak of the massacre occurred on the morning of 8 May 1945, the same day that Nazi Germany surrendered in World War II. About 5,000 Muslim-Algerians paraded to Sétif in order to celebrate the victory ended in clashes between the marchers and the local French gendarmerie when the latter tried to seize banners attacking colonial rule.

In February 2005, Hubert Colin de Verdière, France’s ambassador to Algeria, formally apologized for the massacre, calling it an “inexcusable tragedy,” in what was described as “the most explicit comments by the French state on the massacre.”


Big deal, little deal, no deal? For most of you, maybe not that a big deal. How about if you are Algerian? What if you are related to one of the victims of the massacre? Hmm, that might be a bigger deal then, right?

But are apologies necessary?  Some critics seem to think that apologies are meaningless… after all, did French Ambassador Hubert Colin de Verdière kill any of those Algerians? No, of course not. I think we’ve probably all heard similar comments before: I didn’t own any slaves, why should I take any responsibility? I haven’t killed any Native Americans, why should I say sorry?

On the flipside of the argument, specifically critics of Pope John Paul II warned that his unprecedented apologies would undermine the church’s authority. Similarly, the Heritage Foundation published an article criticizing Barack Obama titled, “Barack Obama’s top 10 apologies how the president has humiliated superpower.” Wow. A crazy leftie like Obama, huh? Figures… typical liberal crybaby, right? OK. How about JPII? Is the Polish pontiff a crazy liberal too? No, but his critics have pointed at his age and health as ways to minimize his papal apologies.


How about Ronald Reagan? In August 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, apologizing to the Japanese American internees and offering $20,000 to survivors of the camps.

Later, on August 1, 1993, President Clinton sent each survivor or the camps a personal apology and, in January 1998, he gave Fred Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  (Korematsu was arrested for remaining in his home and not reporting to the local Assembly Center.  He was convicted of violating E.O.  9066.  The judgment was later overturned.) Many Japanese-Americans have still not received just compensation for properties taken during the internment process.


July 17, 1995 – Barely two months after taking office, President Jacques Chirac today publicly recognized France’s responsibility for deporting thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps during WWII.


Let’s go back to Pope John Paul II: As Pope, he officially made public apologies for over 100 of these wrongdoings, including:

  • October 31, 1992, the legal prosecution of Galileo Galilei, himself a devout Catholic, around 1633
  • August 9, 1993, Catholics’ involvement with the African slave trade.
  • May 1995, in the Czech Republic, the Church’s role in burning at the stake and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation.
  • May 29, 1995, the injustices committed against women, the violation of women’s rights and for the historical denigration of women.
  • March 16, 1998, the inactivity and silence of many Catholics during the Holocaust
  • December 18, 1999, in Prague, for the execution of Jan Hus in 1415. When John Paul II visited Prague in 1990s, he requested experts in this matter “to define with greater clarity the position held by Jan Hus among the Church’s reformers and acknowledged that “independently of the theological convictions he defended, Hus cannot be denied integrity in his personal life and commitment to the nation’s moral education.” It was another step in building a bridge between Catholics and Protestants.
  • March 12, 2000, during a public Mass of Pardons, Pope John Paul II defied warnings from some theologians that an unprecedented apology would undermine the church’s authority, he asked for the sins of Catholics throughout the ages for violating “the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and [for showing] contempt for their cultures and religious traditions”. Specifically, he asked God to forgive the persecution of the Jews by the Catholic Church: “We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood.”
  • For the actions of the Crusader attack on Constantinople in 1204. To the Patriarch of Constantinople, he said “Some memories are especially painful, and some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds and hearts of people to this day. I am thinking of the disastrous sack of the imperial city of Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East. It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret.
  • On November 20, 2001, from a laptop in the Vatican, Pope John Paul II sent his first e-mail apologizing for the Catholic sex abuse cases, the Church-backed “Stolen Generations” of Aboriginal children in Australia, and to China for the behavior of Catholic missionaries in colonial times.

An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie, for an excuse is a lie guarded. — Pope John Paul II


England and Ireland:

  • June 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement expressing remorse for the British government’s inaction to assist the Irish during the potato famine of the late 1840s.
  • 1998, the Good Friday Agreement…
  • Jul 17, 2002 – The IRA yesterday issued an unprecedented apology to the families of those it termed “non-combatants” whom it killed during its 30-year campaign of violence in Northern Ireland.
  • Jun 15, 2010 – David Cameron has apologized on behalf of the country for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” shooting dead of 13 civilians by the Army on Bloody Sunday.


Kansas US Senator and Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican, had pushed for the resolution since 2004. Both houses of Congress approved it late last year, tucked into an appropriations bill, and President Barack Obama signed it in December. Lawmakers have described the resolution as a symbolic gesture that would help promote a renewed commitment by the federal government to the tribes. While Brownback has said the resolution was not meant to authorize or support any claim against the U.S. government, the resolution “acknowledges years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies and the breaking of covenants” by the U.S. government toward tribes and “apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on” American Indians by U.S. citizens.


Back to the rest of the British Commonwealth…

  • 13, 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an official apology to its indigenous people
  • June 11, 2008, the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper made a Statement of Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools.
  • May 17, 2011 – The Queen lays a wreath in Dublin for those who died fighting for Irish freedom from Britain.


And then there’s Barack Obama as I mentioned earlier:


  • Apology to the Muslim World (“We Have Not Been Perfect”) President Obama, interview with Al Arabiya, January 27, 2009, Apologized to the Summit of the Americas (“At Times We Sought to Dictate Our Terms”) President Obama, address to the Summit of the Americas opening ceremony, Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, April 17, 2009
  • Apology for the War on Terror (“We Went off Course”) President Obama, speech at the National Archives, Washington, D.C., May 21, 2009
  • Apology before the Turkish Parliament (“Our Own Darker Periods in Our History”) Speech by President Obama to the Turkish Parliament, Ankara, Turkey, April 6, 2009. “Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future.”
  • In letter to the Afghan president, President Barack Obama “expressed our regret and apologies” over the burning of Muslim holy books at Bagram Air Field.



April 29, 2015: Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, during the first speech of a Japanese prime minister at a Joint session of the United States Congress, stated: “deep repentance” for Japan’s actions during World War II.


Perhaps not unrelated… on May 27, 2016, US President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial


Just this year, on Apr 11, 2018 – In an extraordinary letter to the bishops of Chile, published, Pope Francis apologize to abuse victims, specifically in Chile, he also invited them to Rome so that he could personally apologize.


What is the point of all this? Well, I find it interesting that we expect other demographic groups, nation-states, religions to “come clean” and own their demographic groups. As I’ve said before, the same voices that clamor about Turkish acceptance for responsibility for the Armenian Genocide, and Turkey certainly ought to, but those same voices neglect their own demographic tribal responsibilities, such as the Native American Genocide, the enslavement of West Africans, the current Rohingya Genocide. Similarly, most criticism of apologies comes from ideological opposites.


US President John F. Kennedy once said, “No one has a right to grade a President — not even poor James Buchanan — who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made decisions.” To paraphrase the famous cliché, Maybe we should walk a mile in our own footsteps before mocking the sideward or haltering steps of others. Conservatives like Ronald Reagan, Jacques Chirac, Sam Brownback, Stephen Harper, and perhaps Pope John Paul II and Shinzo Abe… Liberals like Clinton, Kevin Rudd, Barack Obama, perhaps Pope Francis… So maybe owning our demographic tribal responsibility isn’t a sign of weakness, or belonging to any specific ideology. Maybe it’s about maturity and leadership.


That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,

Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.

Thank you for listening!

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