The Theatre of apology.
After any tragic event, however benign and inconsequential to those that are more abhorrent acts that all of humanity should be ashamed. Among the ranks of society there stands an urge to look for an apology. An official voice by which those wicked actors in time collectively are focused through this speaker or speakers and say with ‘sincere’ sorrow that they are sorry to each and every victim. It is as though that a small group or even a sole representative can speak for both victims and the perpetrators, as though millions of lives and indescribable suffering and sorrow can simply be washed away with, “sorry”.
How can this be considered a legitimate act of closure to violations of individual humanity and why is it that often, the collectivisation of so many individuals, is sought for both justice and absolution? And how is it that we so arrogantly assume that each and every individual who has suffered can find comfort in such a theatrical performance of political self-service, that is the official apology. Where identity politics and the status of an elite can somehow speak for the victims in a moment of handshakes and grandiose speeches.
Having the leaders or government of the time apologise for the conduct and policies of a previous government in some ways seems as though it is a respectful action. A means by which a regime can mend bridges destroyed by previous ruling parties. Take for example the Japanese or Turkish cultural disregard and arrogance towards its atrocities in the not too distant past. Such denial is a shameful conduct on their behalf but what good would a present-day apology do? Those living now had nothing to do with the actions of the rulers in the past. An acknowledgement is one thing and an openness from within its society to look at its history is another. But an all absolving apology is expected by many to somehow relegate the issue to ‘bygones being bygones’. And that somehow delegates representing the harmed can speak for each and every individual is cruel and unjust, Furthermore I would go so far as to argue that a belief in a contemporary regime’s power to ‘fix’ such wounds with an apology in turn adds to the problem.
In this belief, we relegate individual duty and empathy for the victims to this entity and the ruling elites of society. The government now takes on a transcendental ability to make amends to its past victims. It somehow has a power to ‘heal’ history. It does not and cannot do this regardless of how many monuments, reparations and speeches are concocted. Such theatrics are in fact a disservice to the victims of such terrible events. Individuals being aware of such atrocities, realising the causes of them and NOT obediently abiding to ANY regime, however benevolent its gestures may be, is the means by which to assure that such actions are unlikely to ever occur again.
The bones and flesh of the many millions of victims are buried or have perished so no apology can rectify their tragedy. By not adding to their graves is the nearest thing one can do in honouring them, remembering them as being individual human beings with distinct personalities with their own hopes, fears and dreams and not clumping them into a heap of historical statistics. Keeping them from being mere numbers in a fact book for morbid classroom discussion can also help add to some degree of dignity. Ultimately however by not obligating their descendants into the collective charge of any future regime so that they may suffer the consequences of policy is perhaps the greatest assurance one can afford them. Simply not relying on leaders of a Nation state or heads of any regime to speak or act on their individual behalf based upon some collective illusion is an honour unrealised.
No amount of theatre will ever compensate for the horrors suffered by so many millions, no self-serving words can wash away the blood nor can any applauding masses of self-congratulatory arrogance satisfy the tear stained cheeks of the past. Theatre is pretend, a poor fictional shadow of any reality. It is performed for the satisfaction of the actor and audience, the performance is make believe, these historical events however are not. For those living and breathing human beings snuffed out so violently, nothing about their fate was make believe or theatrical. So why should we allow ourselves to mourn them in such a manner. Why should we disregard the past as being a faraway land unlike the present or the future? Why should we delude ourselves into pretending that what happened does not matter because it can never happen again or that those who died were dissimilar to us as they lacked our modern civilized sophistication or our techno nuances. If that is the mantra swirling in so many minds, then so shall we perform in our own tragic play of deadly arrogance.
The words spoken by leaders of policy carry little honest weight, their tongues so poisoned by deceit can only violate any sentence of substance. Why should we trust liars and defilers, law makers who so easily celebrate in law breaking? How dare such people even utter a whisper and consider it as being a worthy eulogy for the dead. And how dare we pretend to listen and acknowledge such a moment of contemporary political masturbation over the graves of so many. In the past, these very people who now offer an apology on all our behalf would have so easily condemned the victims to their fates, seldom can one find the courage and morality in such a creature to defy the populist lust for death. Rare is such radical defiance found in such public officials of success who would risk their own career or life for that of righteousness or the lives of others. And yet, here they stand expected to voice a consolatory apology to those who cannot even hear it. They do so only because it is popular to do so or because a moment in time expects them to.
When a mass murderer apologises as an individual it is often viewed as being too little and too late. The apology is seen as being self-serving either by means to lessen their punishment or because they have found some higher order by which they now feel a need to repent. In any case, the damage was long ago done. Yet, the cold mechanisation of a political entity is somehow absolved because its official apology must be taken. Even as it is repeating the same murderous acts in its present form, standing upon the bloody corpses of its new victim, it seeks to compensate the bones of its old victims with some formal gesture of apologetic self-service. Nothing is learned, no closure can be sought, history grinds on and the murderous actors and those masters that commanded their conduct stroll on to the next unmarked grave of misery. Meanwhile it is with indignation that many view the blubbering convicted murder as he begs for forgiveness from a prison cell, no empathy in their heart for this sort of animal, while adulation and respect is preserved eternally for the uniformed and well suited mass killers of history.
The descendants of the many dead or those few who managed to survive have lived with these horrors for so many years. Whether in painful obscurity ignored or denied their tears by a culture or society which only needs another moment in time to thrash out into the entrails of another’s baby and justify it with policy or necessity. Or for those who suffer in the open and become an entertaining publicity vehicle to which interested others can attach themselves, drawing from their past sufferings as a vehicle of self-emulation and a cry of awareness. So, that others may hurt while they succeed and gain at such a bitter expense. No apology can even come close to healing such as was suffered by true victims of horror.
And even if the very rapist of a child or the executioner of a family stood before their surviving victim and spoke with a poet’s majesty their apology. So, what? Where was this remorse before they were caught? Where was it before they lost the War? Where was this shame and regret before the orgasm? Where was the empathy as victims begged, and pleaded before their execution? What good do any of these words matter? It only satisfies an uncaring society of voyeurs and the criminal. Such absolution does not exist in reality only in a deluded need for a philosophy of forgive and forget. The victims however remain soiled and dead. Such words are but putrid vapour spitting out noise which only appears as a perfume to those sociopaths who ignore history’s lessons or who would in similar historical shoes have condoned such atrocities with a pen stroke of policy should a populist fervour carried their hand.
So, while so many sincerely seek the ‘official apology’, such a publicity stamp or acknowledgement changes little. Those who care already knew what happened, those who suffered continue to do so, those so ignorant will continue to feed their faces with narcissistic bliss and those who denied such an apology will feel no remorse nor consideration for those they may harm henceforth in the future. Perhaps some satisfaction can be found in the living victims who are materially compensated. Money stolen from those who committed no crime, handled by those who were not alive at the time but enjoy such ‘benevolent robbery’ passed onto those who will not heal no matter how big their bank account swells. Such reparations are the closest gesture of sincerity that our society knows to offer. A pity for the unborn that the removal of power bases of monopolised violence should not occur.
Compensation is dished out as though it will assure the victims that awareness is raised, peace been made or that the Government or offending party has been punished. Yet all that has happened is the Government does what it always does. It steals from one set of victim-subjects to satisfy its own rhetoric in order to pay some others which it either has directly harmed or its predecessor had harmed. But again, somehow this entity is omniscient and can fix and heal. Like a chameleon its outward appearance changes according to the time and place, yet the reptile remains the same in its true nature. And so long as we indulge in such a ritual, so shall tomorrow suffer the same historical consistency of yesterday and today.
Ultimately it is in accepting the official apology from an entity which may not directly have had anything to do with the events that responsibility is removed from the actual perpetrators. It is also assumed that we should gain a morality from it, as though this entity whether a church or the State has an anointed authority from a higher morality to arbitrate justice and closure. Such a power is the same power which can perpetrate the very acts it is apologising for in the first place. It is in giving such power to an indistinct organisation and outsourcing authority, morality and virtue to it that we lose our individualism and succumb to a collective will which has always in history lead to suppression, oppression and mass murder.
If an apology is offered between individual actors, it is up to the victim and the perpetrator to determine how this can or should be done and if it warrants any value to those harmed. But to assume that a spokesperson or persons can so represent an entire community or group of individuals is arrogant and insensitive. To have them receive an apology from someone who was not involved or who is a ‘general’ representative of a group or an entire nation is just as pathetic and serves nothing more other than the dance of politics.
Certainly, it would help if the Church admitted that it has protected child rapists, that State agencies continue to overlook violations of all sorts against individuals, that the Turkish regime in 1915 did massacre Armenians or that the Japanese government during the middle 20th century savaged East Asia with malicious terror. It would help in the sense that it would ensure that a whitewash of history was being removed. An official acknowledgement in the sense that history and facts can be admitted and taught so that deniers are not rampant in their citing of official validation. An apology from a representative, however official, would matter little except if it came from those directly involved and was in regard to specific incidents occurring under each of those general atrocities.
It is in the official omissions and complete disregard from those involved and so many in positions of power who overlook and rub filth into the victims in doing so that we have atrocious political cover ups such as the Heiner affair and other such scandals of their time. Or in the case of Japan where a State dominated education system perpetuates Imperial Japanese myths and deceit at the risk of historical repetition, cultural self-ignorance of their own history but worse the hateful spite that this throws at the victims of such regimes and its many agents.
So, with the passing apology and public acknowledgement the curtain to the play may have closed but the arena of history shall go on. Though tears have dried to dust, blood lifted like a rust and words drifted into empty silence no amount of apology or material compensation can resurrect the dead, re-hymen a babe or cure any shame, there is no fix for such horror suffered. But tomorrow has yet to happen and should the individual consider their own conduct and not surrender obedience to a collective or regime then so shall we marginalise the atrocities and genocide suffered by those unborn. If not, we ultimately shall repeat history and the season of this play shall go on and on and on while the real-world bleeds unending. Curtain close.
Kym Robinson, January 2015