I’m Sorry You’re an Idiot – or – The Meaninglessness of Apologizing for Another’s Actions

Everybody seems to want an apology today.

Japanese want Obama to apologize for Hiroshima. The Chinese want the Japanese to apologize for Nanjing. Some people are still waiting for an apology for Pearl Harbor. (There is some indication that they tried, and MacArthur would not accept the Emperor’s apology.) The Germans are still waiting for the Brits (and us) to apologize for Dresden. The list is probably endless.

What is the point?

1. None of the people actually involved in any of these things are actually doing the apologizing. And I doubt some of them would think they need to be sorry for the actions they took during war. Bad things happen during war. Bad things happen even if you don’t go to war. War can come to you without any action on your part. (Or do you think Ukraine is in some way to blame for Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula? Perhaps Czechoslovakia did something to justify Germany’s invasion in 1938)

2. None of the harm done will be mitigated one iota by anything we say – or don’t – today. So what is the point?

Oh. Feelings. Your feelings got hurt.

The Third Reich bombed London on 57 consecutive nights during the Blitz. Whether or not the Germans ever apologized won’t change one thing. Won’t rebuild one building or restore one life.

Bad things happen during war. And to paraphrase William Tecumseh Sherman, war was the remedy of Japan’s choosing. And Germany’s choosing. They got their fill when all was done.

Now the Monday-morning Quarterbacks want to revisit everything, and take pleasure in denigrating the decisions of people charged with winning a war.

So to avoid the insanity surrounding the current issue, let’s first consider the firebombing of Dresden. Some have called Winston Churchill a war criminal for this action. They claim it was the end of the war, and not justified. But was it really possible to see that early 1945 was the end of the war? In December of 1944 was the Ardennes counteroffensive – or The Battle of the Bulge. There were nearly 90,000 US casualties in the Ardennes Forest that winter, including 19,000 dead. It didn’t look like the Third Reich was getting ready to lay down and give up. So in February of the following year we get the bombing of a German industrial city, Dresden. And you think that is unjustified?

Similar things were said about General William Tecumseh Sherman and the March to the Sea in 1864. But in the summer of 1864 the Democrats ran a political campaign based on the notion that the Union could not win the war and they should sue for peace with the Confederacy. After the fall of Atlanta, most sane people would have seen the writing on the wall (and they did, as that is why Lincoln won re-election.) But the South showed little sign of surrender in November of 1864, which is why Sherman got the permission he did to march on Savannah.

It is always easy to see in hindsight that events were coming to a close. But in 1864 it wasn’t clear that Lee would surrender in the first half of 1865. In February of 1945 it wasn’t clear that the German government was going to quit prosecuting the war. And if they had won in the Ardennes Forest, do you think they would have quit?


One thought on “I’m Sorry You’re an Idiot – or – The Meaninglessness of Apologizing for Another’s Actions

  1. Well said.

    I think there’s a reasonable argument that the atomic bombs we dropped were the kindest thing we could have done to Japan. At the least, it was better than some other options.

    We could have hit them with biological warfare, or WW1 style chemical warfare. We could have done far more fire-bombing – with their penchant for paper and wood housing, it would have killed many, many civilians. And everyone has heard the projections for the death toll after an invasion were around a million. I’ve met people who honestly believe that if we hadn’t nuked Japan, their father would have gone ashore in the invasions and very possibly not come back.

    To apologize for it today is so intellectually vapid that it’s depressing. But completely in character. These people act like the comfortable, padded, secure world they live in today always has been the case and always will be. War is hell, as Sherman said. It’s hard for people raised in the last half century to really understand what WWII was like. The time agonizing over why we dropped the bombs would be better spent learning what life was really like for average folks in the 30s and 40s.

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