Monday, November 16, 2009

That Magic Word

If nation states were individuals, most would be locked away, executed, or kept on a secret payroll. Psychotics have their uses, after all. Still, it's simple and profitable to condemn the Saddams and Slobos, especially when they fall from imperial favor. They're disposable, and better still, have no right of appeal. No matter what they say in their cells or on the stand, they are toast, which is why Saddam exited without apology. I'm sure he felt no regrets (except maybe for his taste in hidey holes), and even if he did, who cared? So Saddam trash talked his masked Shiite executioners straight to the end of his rope. What did he have to lose?

How many American war criminals would show the same spirit at the moment of truth? Maybe Cheney, but I suspect that Dick would collapse on the gallows steps, whimpering about patriotism and family, dragged to the noose and held in place until the final drop.

Happily, we'll never see such events, an imperial perk highly valued by those with the longest rap sheets. Besides, we in the West discovered that official apologies for prior criminal actions help to ease accumulated tension. State contrition for this massacre or that coup diminishes the crime while lending an air of remorse. Of course, said crime must be at least 50 years past, for anything newer might be seen as a confession. The whole point to official apologies is to use certain historical atrocities to beautify contemporary arrangements. We wish we could go back and stop slavery before it took hold, but what are you gonna do? The important thing is that we've learned from our mistakes and are ready to move forward.

The British government, assisted by Australia, offers the latest official atonement. From 1618 to 1967, some 150,000 poor British children were shipped overseas to provide cheap labor in foreign markets, the bulk apparently going Down Under. That this practice ended only 40 years ago shows that the Brits are on the cutting edge of imperial apologetics, perhaps inspiring a new generation of apologists. Then again, as awful as this crime against children was, it pales against deadlier British deeds in Ireland and India. Maybe that's why they feel free to express their regrets so soon.

It's a bit like a serial killing rapist and thief apologizing for his grandfather's crimes. Yes, such behavior runs in the family, but Gramps was truly crazy and reckless, with no regard for consequence. For this, one must humbly say "sorry." That was a different time. Mistakes were made and learned from. Why, in Gramps' day, you couldn't dissolve body parts or sell them on the black market. And today, one is much more selective when it comes to rape and murder. It's a global business. Gramps, rest his soul, lacked wider vision.