Recently, in a short exchange, the subject of national apology resurfaced, especially in the light of Australia’s move to apologize for its treatment of the aborigine population. However, on some reflection I think the idea of national apology is wrong and actually counter-productive. I was briefly looking for entertainment opportunities for my wife and I to take in in the upcoming weeks and this arose as a possibility. The remark embedded in the blurb:

This concise but wide-ranging documentary examines the subject through compelling stories from around the globe, including the families of six young men killed by the British Army in Northern Ireland, an Amish community overcoming the mass murder of five of its schoolchildren, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel seeking an official apology from Germany for the Holocaust, … [emphasis added]

Now let me suggest two events and consider of the following which do you think would mean more to the world-wide Jewish population:

  1. Angela Merkel reads an apology ratified by the Bundestag and Bundesrat offering regret for the Holocaust. A piece of modern art-work is commissioned to be executed by some marginally transgressive modernist artist.
  2. In a ground-swell movement of German people individually embark on a pilgrimage to visit Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Once there these pilgrims plant near or on the site a rue flower, read a poem selected by the movement, tour the site, and shed some tears. Imagine this movement sweeps over a significant percentage of the German people. Millions visit each year for decades or even for generations.

My point is to ask which of these is actually the more meaningful? A statement by a figurehead (or figureheads) or the actual feelings and demonstration of repentance by the people as individuals? I’d offer that the latter would hold far more meaning and that the former would be (should be, by comparison) almost meaningless.

Charity, when practiced by the state, tends to counter and diminish our individual impulse to charity. It is a common notion that personal participation in food kitchens, pantries, or shelters for the homeless is not required, as that is what taxes, in part, are paid to do for us. Similarly apology for evils done by the state replace or diminish the need or impulse for repentance by the individual. For the actual harm done by the state was not executed by any thing called a “state”, but by individuals. And it is individuals who must repent. Germany as Germany does not need to apologize for the Holocaust. Germans do, not Germany. Solzhenitsyn wrote that the line between good and evil is drawn through every human heart. And it is every human heart that needs to repent for things done, not those heartless state organs.

Filed under: CultureEthics & MoralityGovernmentIsraelMark O.Middle East

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