Before I begin, let me apologize for my many failings, as well as those of my family, my city, my state and my nation. Also let me apologize for my dog, who barks at the neighbor dogs in an annoying way. Let me be sure to apologize to God for the state of the human race.
In my local paper today’s editorial page includes a letter thankful that when President Obama went to Copenhagen to lobby the International Olympic Committee, he didn’t apologize for past American transgressions.
This was sarcasm, meant to emphasize how weak Obama sounded in accepting American culpability for some global problems. When speaking in Europe, when speaking in Cairo, when speaking before the UN Obama admitted that America had not always been as helpful as it could have been. For some commentators such admissions are a sign of weakness that practically invites other nations to walk all over us.
Never Apologize. I’m tempted to say this is a peculiarly American point of view—the John Wayne School of Global Diplomacy. But then I think of African leaders. And I think of Asian leaders. And I think of European leaders. And I think of Latin American leaders. Maybe it’s not so American.
By contrast, the head of Toyota gave an amazing speech ten days ago in which, according to news reports,he profusely apologized for the company’s failings. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/03/business/global/03toyota.html?_r=2&sq=toyota&st=cse&adxnnl=1&scp=3&adxnnlx=1255374463-5/P3zor6nJgbEpE4qI0kBg
“He expressed grief over a fatal crash that led to a recall of 3.8 million cars, regrets about an expected second consecutive annual loss and sorrow over the decision to close the company’s first American factory in California.
“Further, Mr. Toyoda said his company was shamefully unprepared for the global economic crisis that has devastated the auto industry, and is a step away from ‘capitulation to irrelevance or death.’ The company, he added, is ‘grasping for salvation.’”
According to the New York Times article, this was exceptionally apologetic, but Japanese executives often make public apologies when their companies are in crisis.
One cannot imagine the president of any of the huge American banks and insurance companies and car companies bailed out by taxpayer money standing up and publically apologizing for their failings. Their worst humiliation is to take home their several million dollars in compensation, condemned to a life of golf and cocktail parties. They are no longer allowed to play Captains of Industry. Apologize? Never. That is for Little People.
Obama’s critics evidently admire that approach. Or maybe they think, as a matter of theology, that America never makes mistakes.
I’m not ready for the Toyota School of Global Diplomacy. I find apologies necessary at times but I don’t like to linger on them. Get it over with. Don’t overdo it. Move on.
Still, saying sorry, so painful to so many, isn’t that hard for me. I make lots of mistakes and I would just as soon acknowledge them. I don’t think that my dignity depends on stonewalling.
Same for America. I don’t mind an occasional mea culpa coming from my president. I see it as a sign of security, not one of weakness.