Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Apologies and pardons

The Japanese Emperor Akihito has for the first time expressed "deep remorse" over Japan's role in World War Two, but his Prime Minister Abe said that future generations should not be "predestined to apologise" for their country's wartime actions.

I do so whole-heartedly agree with him.

Don't get me wrong; I am in no way condoning the way Allied prisoners of war were mistreated.  But it does seem to me to be ridiculous that countries should be expected to apologise for deeds that were carried out by earlier generations.  Emperor Akihito, for example, was only seven years old when Pearl Harbour was attacked so he can hardly be blamed for that.

But it seems to be the in thing for some countries or tribes or communities to demand apologies from others for things that were done not just a generation or two back but, in some cases, centuries back.  There was the case not so long ago when Maori people in New Zealand demanded an apology from Britain for occupying their land.  There has even been a demand for Britain to apologise for the part it played in the slave trade which was banned by the British Parliament over 200 years ago - a ban which the Royal Navy sought to impose on other nations by stopping the slave ships.

I also consider it slightly . . .  I was going to write "ridiculous" but that isn't really the best word; "odd" isn't a lot better.  But anyway, there are those who have tried to get people pardoned for committing crimes that are no longer crimes.  The best example is that of Alan Turing.  Turing is sometimes described as the father of modern computing and it was he who led the section responsible for breaking the German codes during World War II.  But Turing was prosecuted in 1952 and found guilty of committing homosexual acts, when such behaviour was still a criminal act in the UK, and accepted chemical castration rather than prison.  He died from cyanide poisoning shortly before his 42nd birthday, the coroner's verdict being suicide.  There has been something of a campaign for Turing to be pardoned, which seems pointless to me.

And then we have the matter of so-called deserters or men executed for cowardice in World War One when they were, in fact, suffering from shell shock, what we might now call post-traumatic stress.  They would not be found guilty today - at least, many of them wouldn't.  I can understand their descendants seeking pardons, of course I can, but I have to wonder what is the point?  Should we also pardon those who were hanged - or transported - for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving family?

When it comes to a matter of possibly apologising for the deeds of our ancestors or pardoning people who committed crimes that are no longer crimes, I think we need to remember that we cannot turn back the clock, neither do we bear any responsibility for the deeds - or misdeeds - of our forefathers.  I can't get worked up about any of it.  As Lady Macbeth said, "what's done is done and cannot be undone".