Why say sorry: on the ambiguities of official apologies

2016-09-06T08:41:36Z (GMT) by Sanderjin Cels
In the last decades, government officials seem increasingly inclined to apologize for atrocities and injustices perpetuated in the past. In 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized in Parliament for laws and policies that inflicted "profound grief, suffering, and loss” to Aboriginal peoples. His successor, Julia Gillard, offered government apologies in 2013 for past policies that encouraged unwed mothers to give up their babies for adoption to married couples. In 2010, Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State, apologized to Guatemalans for a medical experiment conducted by the US Public Health Service in the 1940s, in which Guatemalan soldiers, prisoners, and people with mental disabilities had been injected with syphilis without their consent. These are just a few examples on the growing list of official remorse: more and more, government representatives take up apology as a tool to address historical wrongdoing. And with good reason: apologies can highlight "possibilities of peaceful coexistence” and remove obstacles to more productive relations among individuals and communities (Barkan 2006, p.7). They have the potential to rehabilitate individuals and restore social harmony (Tavuchis, 1961, p. 9), and they seem to be humane and efficient devices for curtailing conflict (Cohen, 2004, p. 177). [Continues.]