Panjwai and when America needs to apologize

In case you missed it, a few days ago an American soldier marched from home to home in the town of Panjwai, Afghanistan, murdering 16 civilians—nine of them children.

Wrote Taimoor Shah and Graham Bowley in the New York Times: “Residents of three villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province described a terrifying string of attacks in which the soldier, who had walked more than a mile from his base, tried door after door, eventually breaking in to kill within three separate houses. The man gathered 11 bodies, including those of 4 girls younger than 6, and set fire to them, villagers said.”

Horrible. Beyond horrible.

In case you haven’t been paying much attention, we are at an interesting point in the American debate over whether a president should apologize for his nation’s actions. According to the top GOP presidential candidates, a chief executive never apologizes. Ever. Literally, Mitt Romney uttered the words, “I will never apologize for the United States of America.” Which sounds great to a room packed with screaming yahoos. But what if, in fact, a nation does something wrong. Like, say, one of its soldiers slaughters innocents? Then what?

You apologize. You have to apologize. In this case, obviously, the damage is already done; and Barack Obama issuing a remorseful statement will only accomplish so much (if anything at all). But, still, you have no choice.

Furthermore, this idea that, somehow, apology=weakness is second-grade schoolyard nonsense. Apologizing … acknowledging a wrong … actually takes tremendous strength, because you’re laying yourself out there. Bare.

In this case, an apology needs to be made.


PS: One more thing. Inevitably, the Republicans will say, “Well, Afghanistan has never apologized to us for …” Which is bullshit. Why would you hold yourself to the ethical standards of Afghanistan? America should aim higher.

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