Thursday, April 07, 2011

I'd Like to Officially Apologise for....umm...Everything :)

In recent years there seems to have developed a fashion for national governments to apologise for acts committed by their country throughout history. The descendents of the perpetrators of an injustice apologising to the descendents of those against whom the injustice was perpetrated.

The British have a long history of imperialism and many events in our history we should probably rightly not feel proud of. But I'm not sure of the significance of these apologies or what they are meant to achieve.

The latest of these involve the Prime Minister David Cameron accepting Britain's responsibility for "many of the world's problems" and in this particular case the poor job we did in 1947 in the partitioning of India and Pakistan. As the article points out, in recent years we've also apologised for famine in Ireland in the 19th century, our participation in the slave trade and to children that were shipped to Australia during the middle half of the 20th century. The comment in the article “This is typical of the UK’s schizophrenic relationship with former colonies where it is both proud and embarrassed about its past." I think is very accurate.

Where India/Pakistan and Australia are concerned I see the significance as there are still many people alive who were wronged and to whom an apology will be relevant but I don't detect in these often very cautiously worded apologies that they have anything more than soundbite relevance. There's an element of political grandstanding to them that suggests to me that the politician offering the apology just feels a little judicious faux contrition about events long gone by will ease the passage of the more immediate objective they might currently be trying to achieve.

There is also the way that we attempt to project 21st century morality onto people and the way they acted sometimes hundreds of years ago. Many people find it difficult enough to compare their own outlook on the world with that of their parents or grandparents so how we can project back the way we think now onto people hundreds of years ago bemuses me.

I'm not sure I'm the right person to judge this situation. I'm the product of an education that taught us that the British brought a lot of good to the world by their activities and whilst I'm not dumb enough to accept that is completely true I don't think everything we did was universally bad either. As far as I can tell, children today are taught a rather different version of history to the one I learnt. I have, in recent years become increasingly uncomfortable about the way we always seem to be front and centre and first at getting involved in events currently taking place around the world. There is still a strange mindset in this country that believes British diplomacy - either verbal or on the end of a terrifying piece of military hardware - is more even-handed than most other countries are capable of administering which I think is a dreadful arrogance.

You can't rewrite history and you also cannot with any accuracy work out how the world would have turned out were certain events not to have taken place. The world, for better or for worse, is the way it is now and apologising for events gone by is not going to change them nor is it going to change the current circumstances that those events created.

Are there whole nations and peoples still out there harbouring resentment about events from history? If there are, I'm not sure an apology is going to help that nor will it give them the "closure" that we are so often told they crave when one of these apologies is offered or sought.

I'm not saying we are blameless, I'm simply not sure these mealy-mouthed reversals that it now seems fashionable to hand out will achieve anything and the more that it happens will inevitably mean that each apology is a little more devalued than the previous one.

The world is not perfect now but it is better than it was then (whenever "then" was). We should think to the future and how to improve that and stop thinking we can change history by apologising for it.

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