A Need for a U.S. Apology

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered a public apology to the Aboriginal people of that nation last week. He told the Parliament there, “The Parliament is today here assembled to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul, and in a true spirit of reconciliation to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia.”

It is time that America apologizes to its treatment of American Indians as well.

What would come of this? Reconciliation and healing.

Bill Bradley, the former U.S. senator from New Jersey, summed it up as follows, in his memoir Time Present, Time Past. “I know that an American living now is not responsible for wrongs committed more than one hundred years ago, but the nation itself is responsible. When governments commit crimes, they must make amends to those who are the victims of crimes. If they fail to do so, they live with guilt. Confronting the dark pages of our history is essential to getting beyond them. Americans cannot naively espouse ideals that our own historic actions refute. Failure to come to terms with having broken treaties and destroyed hundreds of thousands of people undermines our moral authority. How liberating it would be to escape the hypocrisy and become a society that lives by its professed ideals! Making amends does not ensure future adherence to ideals or remove the knowledge of past wrongs–America will always live with that knowledge–but it would allow America to have a fresh start.”

Germany’s apology for crimes committed against the Jews allowed the country to move beyond the sins of its past to forge a new future. Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide has left it mired in controversy, unable to more forward without significant obstacles into full acceptance into the EU, whether or not it earns official recognition. The ghosts of our pasts will continue to haunt us, like Turkey, if we do not put them to rest. In religion, to be reborn, one has to ask for forgiveness. In our human relationships as in our spiritual relations, there can be no resolution, no reconciliation, without apology. That is why I stand behind the United States’ need to offer an official apology for its policies of the past that, like Australia’s treatment of aboriginal people, in the words of Prime Minister Rudd, are “a great stain on the nation’s soul.”

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