The following op-ed appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Saturday, December 7, 1991, under the headline "Fifty years ago, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor: Many nations caused World War II – so who whould apologize to whom?" It was prompted by what I saw as a misguided effort to assess blame. Many Americans felt this anniversary was an appropriate time for Japan to issue a formal apology for what we saw as a dastardly sneak attack that plunged half the world into war. This led some Japanese, and some Americans as well, to call for America to apologize for what they saw as an unwarranted attack on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with weapons of mass destruction. Both sides had a point, but in my opinion, both sides also missed the point. Hence this article explaining my view. This page can be viewed in Romanian courtesy of azoft.
Martin E. Hellman
Many years ago when my daughters were small, the younger one asked the older, "In a civil war, the two sides are the same country. So which is the good one?" The older one thought a minute before the solution dawned on her, "The one that wins." She was too small to understand the full wisdom of her answer, but children have an uncanny knack for cutting to the core of truth.
The 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor has been an occasion for assessing blame. Do the Japanese owe us an apology for the 2,400 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor? If so, do we owe them an apology for the 115,000 men, women and children killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The general sentiment in this country seems to be that they owe us an apology, but we don't owe them one. That is normal, but a big mistake.
In the new era of global interdependence, every war is a civil war of brother fighting against brother to their mutual detriment. Now, as then, the winner in a civil war gets to write the history books and become the good guy. But also now, as then, the loser chafes under the unfair stigma and humiliation and waits his chance for revenge. It is no coincidence that Hitler had France's 1940 surrender take place in the same railway car that witnessed the signing of Germany's humiliating defeat in 1918.
In our quest for designation as righteous
warrior against Japan (and Germany), for 50 years we have been setting up a
similar rematch. The recent rise in virulent Japanese nationalism and militarism
is an ominous sign that history may be about to repeat itself.
One of my colleagues, either crazy or prescient, thinks it will be a shooting war. But even "merely" an economic war will take a heavy toll on both sides. There are already signs that we Americans are paying a heavy price for enjoying what has traditionally been one of the fruits of victory – writing history to our benefit, thereby humiliating our opponent.
Admittedly, we have been kinder this time around than in earlier wars, but we are still far from honest and fair. On the surface, Germany and Japan are to blame for World War II. They were militaristic and warlike, and they attacked first. But, if we look deeper, we find sources of blame which we have minimized:
This list could be extended and supplemented with equally long lists for Japan, Germany, Hungary, Russia and every other nation involved in the war.
So who should apologize to whom? Certainly, no nation should be humiliated into an apology. Forced apologies are hollow and short-lived, and no nation speaks with a single voice. Assessing blame for the last war only leads to the next.
Rather, let those among us who are secure enough to recognize that all humans are fallible come forward and apologize for their own mistakes. If enough of us find that nobility of spirit, just maybe there will be no next war for which to apologize.