Op Ed

Takedown: I Will Never Apologize

The first time I saw this week’s crapdate, I thought, “Well, that’s just silly. Why would somebody make a picture proclaiming that they won’t apologize for something they have no control over?” I can’t imagine making a poster saying, “I WILL NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR GROWING UP IN KANSAS.” Or “I WILL NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR SPEAKING ENGLISH NATIVELY.” What a colossal waste of time.

Never apologize!  Never!
Picture courtesy of

Although, to be fair, the picture probably took about 15 seconds to make, so I guess it’s not a colossal waste of time. That honor goes to the text that accompanies the picture:


Being American is the greatest gift God could ever bless someone with. Our record of freedom, of prosperity, of coming to the aid of those in distress and oppression. It is plain and simple, nothing will ever alter that. It is simple, it is absolute! It is a shame that you don’t share the same resolve.


And then I realized. This is about Obama’s apology for the Korans that were burned. As a refresher, “The president wrote to Karzai to apologize after Afghan workers found charred copies of the Muslim holy book at the base near Kabul. Muslims view the Koran as the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.”

Of course, there are those in the media (ahem, Fox News, I’m looking at you), who have taken this apology for an action that occurred and turning it into an apology for being an American. Sean Hannity has called it another “apology tour,” and said that, “We have a serial apologist in the White House.” Then he turned it into, “The president’s apologizing because extremists were passing notes and desecrating and writing in the Koran.”

The president’s apology was for the burned books. Which was, by all accounts, accidental. Which is why you apologize for things, when something has been done by accident. Which has been done before, by George W. Bush, so there is even Republican precedence.

So the entire painting of the apology as a sign of weakness (Hey look, Newt jumped on this train. And Santorum! And Mitt!) is weird, and totally partisan, and somewhat absurd.

But that’s how politics seem to work in America, so it’s no big deal. Until the general public takes what has been made absurd and ups the ante. Times one million.

“Being American is the greatest gift God could ever bless someone with.” Actually, God’s chosen land is generally seen as Israel, so if God really loved you, you’d probably be born there. You could possibly be an Israeli-born citizen who migrated to America, and that was God’s greatest gift (a green card), although the person who posted this on my wall is anti-immigrant, so I don’t think that’s what he was going for.

“Our record of freedom, of prosperity, of coming to the aid of those in distress and oppression” is not even a sentence. I’m guessing that the crapdate poster wants to point out that WE ARE NUMBER 1! And “our record” shows that. Our record is 238 years old. Let’s compare our record to some of the other countries in the world, like:

San Marino (301 AD)
France (486 AD)
Bulgaria (632 AD)
Denmark (950 AD)
Portugal (1143 AD)
Andorra (1278 AD)
Switzerland (1291 AD)

Comparing “our record” to those of countries that are literally ten times our age is ridiculous. But let’s do it anyway. I wasn’t exactly sure what the vague references to freedom and prosperity were, but here are some statistics about our standing in the world:

USA Ranking on Adult Literacy Scale: #9 (#1 Sweden and #2 Norway)- OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)

USA Ranking on Healthcare Quality Index: #37 (#1 France and #2 Italy)- World Health Organization 2003

USA Ranking on Women’s Rights Scale: #17 (#1 Sweden and #2 Norway)- World Economic Forum Report

USA Ranking on Life Expectancy: #29 (#1 Japan and #2 Hong Kong)- UN Human Development Report 2005

USA Ranking on Journalistic Press Freedom Index: #32 (#1 Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands tied)- Reporters Without Borders2005

USA Ranking on Political Corruption Index: #17 (#1 Iceland and #2 Finland)- Transparency International 2005

USA Ranking on Quality of Life Survey: #13 (#1 Ireland and #2 Switzerland)- The Economist Magazine

USA Ranking on Environmental Sustainability Index: #45 (#1 Finland and #2 Norway)- Yale University ESI 2005

USA Ranking on Overall Currency Strength: #3 (U.S. Dollar) (#1 UK pound sterling and #2 European Union euro)- FTSE 2006.

USA Ranking on Infant Mortality Rate: #32 (#1 Sweden and #2 Finland)- Save the Children Report 2006

USA Ranking on Human Development Index (GDP, education, etc.): #10 (#1 Norway and #2 Iceland)- UN Human Development Report 2005

And our aid to those in distress and oppression? “Denmark gives the most amount of its GDP (1.01%) to developing countries; Norway gives 0.91%; the Netherlands give 0.79% and so on until the end of list, where the USA sits. Yes, America ranks DEAD LAST in foreign aid at a pathetic 0.1% of its GDP, compared to the other 21 nations listed as developed nations. The idea that the U.S. government is a heroic bunch that runs around the world helping the poor and the disempowered is not backed up by the evidence.”

Here’s a handy graphic, courtesy of

Anybody who wants to talk about "our record" should probably look at our record first.

The crapdate continues, “It is plain and simple, nothing will ever alter that.” Nothing, that is, except statistics.

“It is simple, it is absolute! It is a shame that you don’t share the same resolve.” Presumably this resolve is to ignore facts. I’m glad that we have a president who doesn’t share that resolve, personally.

Beyond the partisan nature of the “apology tour,” beyond the silly font that is all stonewashed and worn in, beyond the facts that clearly refute the text, the sentiment is very troubling.

Nobody is beyond apology, and nobody is perfect. Somebody who believes that they (or their country) is 100% absolutely right has no ability to think critically, and will never be able to move their country forward. Slavery was wrong. Forced sterilization was wrong. Concentration camps were wrong. Forced assimilation of Native Americans was wrong. A ban on interracial marriages was wrong. Bans on gay marriage are wrong. Taking a stand against apology is dangerous in and of itself. A person, or a country, who will never apologize is, by its very nature, unable to strive for greatness. At the same time, it is giving leaders of the country a powerful license to do whatever they want to whomever they want, because their followers have said they will never apologize.

This is why infallibility is one of the hallmarks of totalitarianism.

Apology is good. Apology shows strength and an ability to think critically about your actions, and admit your shortcomings. It is only through apology that we can move forward as a country, and as a world. You don’t have to apologize for being an American, you really have no control over where you were born. To suggest that a president is an embarrassment for admitting mistakes, though, is wrong, and dangerous. Even if you type it in stonewashed font on top of an American flag.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

66 replies on “Takedown: I Will Never Apologize”

I’ve been thinking about this article since I read it last night. One of the things you work on as a parent or a teacher of young children is getting little kids to understand that when they make a mistake or hurt someone else, it is a good idea to apologize. To a two-year old, an apology can be very hard, in part because a two-year old is thinking from his own vantage point (“well, it didn’t hurt ME!”), but also, I think, because for a very young child an apology can feel like a negation of one’s own self. A very young child can get confused, and believe that saying his actions were wrong means his self is wrong, and nobody wants to admit that. One trick in teaching a young child to apologize is talking about what an apology does for another person. An apology is free – it doesn’t cost anything (except for maybe a bit of your own pride in admitting you goofed or you were wrong). It acknowledges that you understand the other party has feelings, which are legitimate and deserve to be recognized. It is a social smoother, much like “please” and “thank you” are, in that it makes the world work better when you can say something to ease someone else’s pain or anger, especially if you caused it. And even if you’re really not sorry on the inside (and sometimes you’re really not), an apology might still be in order because of all of the reasons listed above. Saying “I apologize for my actions” is a bit different than saying “I’m sorry” (and it’s certainly better than “I’m sorry you got offended when I did that offensive thing,” which is just a shitty and passive-aggressive way of going “nyah nyah”). You can recognize that someone else thought your actions were wrong, even if you disagree with them. Saying “I apologize” does not equal saying “I’m worthless;” it does not negate who you are as a person but actually elevates your self.

All of this is to say that when I see something like this sign, my reaction is always the same: it’s completely sad that there are people out there who are chronologically old enough to drive, vote, hold down a job, pay taxes, etc., but who are emotionally stuck at the two-year old level. Seriously. If you can’t be wrong, ever, if your very existence as an American means you can never apologize for any cultural gaffe you might make as an American (or even see that there might be a need for an apology now and then), you have some serious growing up to do.

I have been thinking a lot about this condition lately.  There has been quite a bit of writing on the subjects of houses being socialist (you should share) when against our capitalist theology (take what you want, it’s all about you) and the confused messages of the getting a spanking for hitting someone (with a wallop for every syllable in “you shouldn’t hit”).

It returns to the idea that our nation was founded on the abstract principles of “liberty” and “freedom,” as Silverwane discussed below, though we have decided in the post-modern Nationalist dialogue to suggest that that referred to the right of land-owning, white, protestant men to not answer to the King of England or the Vatican or Church of England and not to the religious freedoms of all theologies nor the liberties of the poor, women, or non-Europeans.

I think that if we returned to the basic social principles we learned in grade school we would be much better off.  We don’t teach our children (unless we are Dr. Laura) that they never need to apologize: we teach them to say “sorry,” “please,” and “thank you.”  We teach them the difference between “mine,” “ours,” and “theirs,” and that it is good to share what is “mine” with others.  We learn that it’s not OK to hit someone and take their stuff, at least we should.

This reminds me of the people who accuse me of not loving the U.S. because I want to change it.  It seems so obvious to me that if I didn’t care about this country, I wouldn’t waste my time and effort trying to make it better.  I suppose some of it has to do with different definitions of “better,” but I don’t think that’s all of it.  People seem to have this idea that you can’t criticize something you love or strive to improve it.

I’m almost afraid to check Facebook now, because I’m fairly certain I will see that “Never Apologize!” picture on a few walls of friends who regularly make posts like that. I rarely comment on those types of posts anymore – it is simply not worth it. You can state the facts. Link to statistics available online to prove said facts. Gently point out the hypocrisy/wrongness/general-assiness of such posts and it always devolves into, “Well, I love my country, and this is how I feel, no one can tell me I’m wrong!(I call it the “Not Intended to be a Factual Statement” syndrome). Also, I tend to get a bunch of, “Well, maybe those statistics are right, but know what? Know what? Know what? I heard this story one time that, like, is an exception to that otherwise almost-entirely-consistent statistic, so that means that the entire idea is completely and totally wrong.” These tend to be the same people who think welfare is for lazy people and if you can’t afford health insurance then you just need to work harder. I love these friends – who are otherwise wonderful people – but they have worked for the armed forces their entire working lives and have no concept of what the “outside world” is like. Anyone else have friends like this?

You jerk!!  I’m in the Army, as were (and are) many of my family, and we not as stupid as we look!

OK, just kidding.  Well I really am in the Army, but I’m not really offended, and I definitely don’t think you’re a jerk.

The thing about being in the military is that you have to convince yourself of some dumb, not-true things to make it. Take, for example, my blog post regarding some experiences I’ve had: the “I love America and no one can tell me nuthin’ diff’rent” syndrome is a form of psychological protection, and challenging it directly is tantamount to a direct challenge of that person’s physical and mental security. There we get senseless flight into worlds of fantasy or frenzied fight in a blood-stained rage.

Before we arrive, as a nation, at a place in our collective thought were we make appropriate reparation for harm we have caused billions of people we have to first recognize that we have done, and continue to do, harm. That is a difficult proposition. We have to recognize that our Soldiers have killed needlessly: not just the ones who were involved in war crimes, all of them. How do you tell a Soldier who is only hanging onto sanity by a mental mechanic of pride and feeling of just cause that they actually did the wrong thing (as I discussed with a fellow Soldier at a dinner while in Iraq)? How do you tell their family, who supported them through it all, that their loved one committed atrocities? Heck, in my own case where I have come to preach non-violence and am probably going to seek discharge from the military as a conscientious objector, some my own family and friends are reacting crazily to my indictment of myself and my own actions because if I find myself guilty they, by extension, become guilty of support: they become accessories to my crimes. For a few, it looks like there is a chance that they will sever their emotional ties to me before they will recognize such a thing.

Anyway, I say all of that to say that it is not so simple as having a winning, statistics-based argument. Statistics do not evoke passion: we arrive to change-inducing fervor only by exciting the senses with tangible and personal data. We can talk all we want about how people in China are being mistreated in the workplace building our latest-generation gadget, we can even show images of the factories, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a movement to change our consumerist tendencies.

As we move forward in our activism – whether it be for women, the underprivileged, LGBT persons, animals, or our planet – we need to find ways to speak to those who do not feel like they have to change. I find that easier to do if I consider the masses as victims as well. They are suffering from a global instance of Stockholm’s Syndrome where they have come to love the very people and ideas by which they are held captive, and they do so to survive so I cannot respond to their condition directly without eliciting a survival response. The added benefit of thinking of my (to my mind) less-enlightened fellows as victims is the fact that I remember humanity more often than I do when I think of them as ignorant-by-choice. We always do better for the world and each other when we remember humanity. :)

And I do have many friends like that. ;)

Thanks. Hope my comment didn’t sound like I was bashing members of the armed forces. Like I said, my friends are wonderful people, and I’m proud of their service (they are in the Navy). They get great healthcare, armed forces discounts on everything from cars to housing, and have been in service long enough to make some pretty good money – and they deserve all of these things. But I think, at times, it blinds my friends to the reality that many other people face in our country, and that’s where their clueless comments come from, I believe. Perhaps their views are also influenced by the fact that people like my friends are risking their lives for this country, and yet their are many people in this country who are suffering so needlessly despite their best efforts. It might be a form of mental protection, as you said, but being willingly blind to the problems – that I wholeheartedly believe we can solve, because Americans have historically been good problem solvers – will only allow those problems to fester and get worse.

*Edit Sorry Sharpest Shark!  I don’t know why in my original response I was thinking you were Susan.  I don’t always pay attention.  But you are wonderful, and I know you weren’t cutting down the military (which I do all the time actually).  But the statement that we don’t need to apologize for being Persephoneers remains! :)

I agree that staying blind will only make things worse.  I did not intend to suggest that we not engage in dialogue because many are victims: I am saying that we need to make sure it is the right kind of dialogue.  I am as guilty as the next activist for self-righteous explosions in the face of ignorant blathering, and every time I find myself in a position of having hardened the another’s stance because I have made myself part of the out-group and they don’t take kindly to “others.”

With 10 years under my belt in the Army I am like those to whom you refer.  I make good money and have decent benefits.  And now I am willing to throw all that away and trade it in for uncertainty and a little hardship because I cannot in good conscience continue to support war in any form.  It is possible to change people and be changed, so I hope we always strive to do so.

This reminds me of one of the big points one of my professors made. I was taking a class on Germany; the point of the course was, how did a country that gave so much end up producing the Nazi movement?

And one of the big points was: when we talk about freedom, or when we talk about liberty, we can’t ever just say “freedom” or “liberty.”

It is always freedom for whom. Liberty for what. Or other similar statements.

“Freedom” and “liberty” by themselves are meaningless. And to keep asserting them as what the US is “about,” without mentioning what sort of freedoms or liberties we’re talking about, is political jargon that serves to obfuscate what things are really like for so many people in the US and because of the US.

Really good points.  I also get nervous whenever anybody says a buzz-word (or phrase) and then hides behind it, as if the word itself tells you all you need to know.  “Obamacare” is one that I can think of off the bat – like there’s no point in talking any further because that word shields everybody from logic.  Freedom and liberty are like that, too.

Indeed. I hate the whole “freedom and liberty” shtick the most, because it’s usually always mentioned when someone dares to criticize something the US did, or something the US is.

These people insist on thinking that the US is clearly the best country in the world, and to criticize it is to take it off that pedestal. It is absolutely a terrifying mentality. If we are going to be not only good citizens and good participants in the world, but also true patriots, we have to be willing to question the very practices our country engages in.

I’ll be honest, I avoid arguing politics on Facebook like the plague. It has been known to keep me up at night, and/or make me nauseous, to the point where I have been unfriending people all week because the Rush Limbaugh fallout has broken me.

But, because I can’t stand just letting things go, I re-post Susan takedowns instead, as a silent protest of all the jackassery in the world, in the hopes that someone will read them and maybe start down the road to common sense.

Thank you for this, Susan. There have been apologies going on here, Libya apologised for the deliberation destruction of graves of British and Italian soldiers. I don’t know. There have been issues here in terms of burning (Muslims burning poppy wreaths, if I remember right) but things like that (whichever the perpetrating religion/belief) goes to the police, where as the impression with the burnings in the US (unless I’m not seeing additional info) is that it’s tolerated, it isn’t seen as a hate crime.

And, uh, I may be ever so slightly amused by knowing that your country is just seven years older than our local lunatuc asylum – as it was when it was established (it’s now a hospital).

With this, I know that in America it was presented as “it was just a mistake,” which I didn’t really buy but QoB said books are burned with all other trash, so maybe.  But an apology was the VERY least that could be done.

Bahaha, I have an American friend who moved here just before A-levels, and the first time we went through Cambridge she kept going “THAT BUILDING’S OLDER THAN AMERICA. THAT BUILDING’S OLDER THAN AMERICA. THAT BUILDING’S OLDER THAN AMERICA.”

Now that’s my standard for “oldness”.


I took her to Ely Cathedral, completed in the 12th century, once. I explained it thus;

“Basically, when this was built there was water there and there.”

This precipitated a discussion of East Anglia’s dyke system, installed in the 17th century. She exclaimed loudly (in a Cathedral, I might add), “EVEN YOUR DYKES ARE OLDER THAN AMERICA.”

I used to live in Ely, and whenever I felt really upset or alone, I’d go to the Cathedral and just sit in the pews. It’s so vast and beautiful and old, it feels paradoxically pagan almost. Earthy. Sometimes I read there, which is SO not the point. xD

If we were nearer, my goodness, I would be doing likewise at Iona Abbey. It’s an incredible place and there is something so peaceful and still about it, which I’m certain is partly because of its age (parts of it are about 1500 years old) and it is just part of the island. Oh my, it’s been too long since I was there.


Unfortunately, exceptionalism is a part of nationalism, and nationalism is still an underlying part of a lot of ideology (left and right wing).

What’s just as annoying (well, more to me because I live here and see it a lot, but you get what I mean) is the British people who will take that and go “Bloody Americans. The British are civilised and tolerant.” Those who are educated and still ignorant will go “The Empire was never this blowhard.”

Yeah, actually, I too take great pride in a four hundred year legacy of slavery and rapacious slaughter enacted under an ideology of enlightened humanism. Millions of people died but have you seen how pretty London is? Totes worth it. Those lazy Greek bastards weren’t even using those monuments. When’s the last time they actually sacrificed anything to Zeus? They wouldn’t miss it. Anyway we totally have a burden as white people to civilise the lesser races. It’s just the European way. American culture is so uniquely arrogant, do they even know where Luxembourg is?!!!!!

Don’t feel too bad. As an American visiting in Europe I was constantly thinking “Everything here is older than my whole country.”

Edit: and by my whole country I mean the established government of the USA not the geographical region or the idea of civilization on it.

I’m dealing out woopsedaisies like they’re free tonight!

But hey, I’m a two-times immigrant who doesn’t feel any love for her country. I simply don’t get the magic of The States, ruler of worlds. Especially not when it’s so often morons who proclaim it.

But I guess people also do it with being born in the nice villa over the slums, in the nice white neighborhood over the ghetto or in the nice education-loving family over junkie parents. It’s just everyone else’s fault that they didn’t have proper pro-being-born skills on getting where you belong.

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