On Apologizing

Apologising. Some people can own up to their mistake and say I’m sorry.  Others refuse to acknowledge that they made a mistake. Often, the question is whether or not it really is necessary to apologize. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has made headlines recently for suggesting that the UK should apologize for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.  This historically violent event took place in the town of Amritsar, Punjab in India, claiming the lives of over a 1000 innocent Indians.  A tragedy, indeed.  However, after more than 98 years, does a representative of the responsible criminals really need to apologize or is this baggage of the past something that we are better off not carrying into the future?

First, the context:  On April 13th, 1919, a large number of civilians had gathered at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab to celebrate Baisakhi, a religious festival for Punjabi people. They had also gathered to express their unhappiness at the deportation of two national leaders, Satya Pal and Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew. The event had attracted people from outside Amritsar the city who were unaware of the of the imposition of martial law which restricted the assembly of people. Jallianwala Bagh is a large public garden covering about 6 to 7 acres with high ten-foot walls on all sides and five entrances. General Dyer’s troops blocked the main exits with armored cars and ordered his troops to open fire into the crowd for ten minutes, directing their bullets towards the most dense sections of the crowd. While the official figures published by the British government states 379 people died and 1,200 people were wounded, other independent sources placed the number at over 1,000 deaths.

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A day that will never be forgotten, April 13th, 1919.

Over the years, as prominent people from the UK have visited Amritsar, an apology is still yet to come. One such person was Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, who visited the Jallianwala Bagh in October 1997. They offered no apology for the massacre committed by the British Army officer.

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David Cameron visited, yet didn’t offer an apology.  Source: dailymail.co.uk

But when former British Prime Minister, David Cameron visited Jallianwala Bagh in 2013, he called the event a “deeply shameful event in British history.” However, when it came to the issue of an apology, he said that since the incident happened forty years before he was born, it wouldn’t be right to “reach back into history and seek out things to apologize for.”

Simran Sethi, an 11th grader at SAS, shared her thoughts on the topic of an apology from the UK for the morbid incident. “From a moral standpoint, I believe Mayor Sadiq Khan is not wrong in wanting to issue a formal apology for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. At least 379 Sikhs were killed (the figure is still disputed), a thousand injured, and the event is still considered to be one of the most horrendous tragedies in the history of India”.  She added: “However, I believe that the issuing of formal statements or any acknowledgment of mistakes in reference to historical events should be based more on pursuing national interests and the betterment of present or future lives of the citizens and foreign relations, instead of only considering a moral point of view”.

I believe that the issuing of formal statements or acknowledgement of mistakes in reference to historical events should be based more on pursuing national interests and the betterment of present or future lives

Another somber incident would be the controversial Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Nuclear bombs were dropped on the two Japanese cities, killing millions and affecting generations of newborns. The US wanted to get rid of the Japanese powerhouse in World War II and succeeded with its deadly weapon. However, the question remains if an apology is needed for that incident that took place over eighty years ago.  When former president, Barack Obama visited Japan in May 2016, he did not apologize for the tragic incident. During his visit to Hiroshima, one of the cities bombed, he was interviewed by the Japanese National Broadcaster NHK where he explained why he wasn’t going to apologize. “It’s important to recognize that in the midst of war, leaders make all kinds of decisions, it’s a job of historians to ask questions and examine them. But I know, as somebody who’s now sat in this position for the last seven and half years, that every leader makes very difficult decisions, particularly during wartime”.

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A tragedy indeed, but it was a difficult decision made in the time of war. Source: commondreams.org

Prior to the president’s visit, the Japan Times polled its readers to see whether they thought the President should apologize for the bombings. There were three possible answers and about 42% said “No, but he should commit to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons”, 39% chose “Yes”, and 19% percent replied: “Absolutely not”.  And among the people who said he shouldn’t apologize, the largest group was made up of 28.3% largely comprised of U.S. respondents. Being a leader is a tough job. It is, indeed, a tough responsibility and in the midst of war, hard decisions will be made. Some of the decisions made were not necessarily the best, but do we really need to expect an apology from them?

As a person of Indian origin, when it comes to Jallianwala Bagh, I disagree with David Cameron because those people did not deserve to be massacred just because they were unhappy with a certain decision made by the British. People may have moved on, but that doesn’t mean they have forgotten. Not wanting to reach back into history is simply an excuse for either not feeling the need to apologize or feeling too embarrassed to apologize.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also tragic incidents, but when you compare these events, they occurred under different circumstances.   Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened under the fog of war, where each country was serving itself and sometimes needed to put the end goal over the means. Maybe the tactic was extreme, but the motive was clear. While the number of people who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is estimated to be 200,000, the alternative outcome of the allied forces invading Japan would have likely resulted in far more casualties.  Ultimately, President Truman made this difficult decision to stop the bloodshed and stop the Japanese superpower.

When it comes to Jallianwala Bagh, however, there is and never was a justification or a reason to chose the violent option.  I stand resolved that an apology is, indeed, necessary as the intentions of this massacre were simply evil. Unfortunately, that apology will likely never come.

Author: Aditi Balasubramanian

Aditi Balasubramanian is a senior at SAS and one of the Chief Copy Editors for The Eye. This is her fourth year at SAS but she has lived in Singapore her whole life. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading and watching "Gilmore Girls"--which may have fuelled her interest in being a journalist. She loves anything with chocolate in it and Indian food. She can be contacted at balasubram47401@sas.edu.sg.

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