Saying sorry

"Saying sorry" Continued...

Issue: "Johnny Carson: In memoriam," Feb. 5, 2005

Consider Germany, a nation that has apologized twice for the suffering caused by its actions. Its first national apology came after WWI when Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, accepting responsibility for losses and damages to the allied governments and for the payment of reparations. The second apology occurred after WWII when it accepted responsibility for perpetuating the "worst crimes against humanity." The apology was followed with actual reparation of billions of dollars to Israel and billions in separate payments to Holocaust survivors.

More recently, British prime minister Tony Blair apologized for the treatment of the Irish during the potato famine, Pope John Paul II apologized for the sins of the Roman Catholic Church, and Australia apologized to Aborigines.

WORLD: Why aren't the decades of affirmative action a sufficient apology?

CMS: Affirmative action was never a policy that benefited blacks exclusively. Women were included from the very beginning and by the early 1970s five protected minorities had been added. Affirmative action has benefited some people at the expense of others and created divisiveness in its wake.

WORLD: How do you respond to critics who say a national apology imputes guilt to all white Americans, including those whose ancestors lived in other countries?

CMS: I would respond that all of our ancestors participated in the heinous crime in some form or the other. Moreover, the whites that came to the country later reaped benefits from the system that kept blacks in a subordinate position.

WORLD: Some who are pushing for an apology say it should and would be followed by a program of financial reparations, but how could such a program be administered, given the biracial ancestry of many Americans?

CMS: I am not a proponent of monetary reparations for slavery for many reasons. African-Americans make up 13 percent of the total U.S. population. At least 5 percent of African-Americans and significant percentages of affirmative action beneficiaries are the offspring of more recent immigrants and are not direct descendants of American slaves.

Financial reparations for slavery would create an administrative nightmare for the government, it would be extremely divisive and counterproductive to promoting racial reconciliation, and most importantly it would not solve the most pressing problems affecting black communities. It is critical, therefore, that we distinguish the appeal for a national apology from the vociferous demands for slave reparations heard in recent years.

WORLD: You're not looking for reparations, but why wouldn't an apology further the cause of those who are?

CMS: A national apology for slavery is not an admission of guilt that could be successfully used in a court of law to justify the payment of monetary reparations. All indications suggest that the legal case for slave reparations has been put to rest by the failure of its advocates to prevail in a series of cases that have established important precedents. Insurmountable obstacles include the lack of anyone alive with the legal standing to bring forth a valid claim of injury, traceable to the actions of an identifiable wrongdoer. Moreover, the statute of limitations and the lack of an adequate remedy at law mean that a legal case would not be advanced by the president or by the Congress making a goodwill gesture on behalf of the nation.

In the end, it does not matter whether Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or the Congressional Black Caucus support the apology. What matters is that the goodwill gesture takes place during this century. A national apology from the current presidential administration would close the door on slavery and serve as a giant step forward toward healing the nation and reconciling the fractured relationship between blacks and Republicans.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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