Montréal, 3 février 2001  /  No 76
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          The full verse from Tobias, Chapter 3, verse 3, reads « And now, O Lord, think of me, and take not revenge of my sins: neither remember my offences, nor those of my parents. »  
          Today's politically correct movement seems to have chosen to ignore the wisdom underlying this ancient plea. Unlike God, who sent the angel Raphael to relieve Tobias, the Politically Correct movement chooses not to forgive anyone's past sins. One of its more recent manifestations is what has been termed the « politics of apology », something that seems to have become the linchpin of left-wing philosophy.
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word 
          Our southern neighbour, where anything new and trendy is adopted with the speed of summer lightning, was quick to jump on this particular bandwagon and in 1993 hosted a conference to initiate a « national apology to native Americans ». Although whether the timing of the event was chosen to draw attention away from the misdeeds of its then president I cannot say. Similarly the US government offered an apology to those Japanese-Americans it had interned during the Second World War. Not to be outdone, our own Brian Mulroney apologised to Japanese-Canadians for the appalling way in which this country had treated its citizens of that genetic origin during the same war. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee, under Bishop Tutu, called upon their fellow white citizens to apologise for their sins against blacks during the apartheid era. 
          Perhaps the most outlandish expression of this phenomenon occurred in Australia's New South Wales in 1998 when their left-wing labour government organised a « Sorry Day ». The confessed purpose of this was for the « nation » to apologise to the Aboriginal peoples for the forced removal of over 100,000 children from their families between the 1880's and the 1960's. The date was chosen to mark the first anniversary of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission report, Bringing Them Home, which recorded in detail the cruelty inflicted upon the « stolen children » and their families right up until the early 1970s.  
          Child separation in Australia began in the 1880s, at a time when Aboriginal people were still being driven off the best agricultural and grazing land, often violently, through various means such as massacres, poisonings and the introduction of diseases. Those actions expressed a critical requirement to establish a system of private land ownership. The land had to be cleared, and all communal claims over it had to be extinguished. Later, according to the report, under the supposedly more humane banner of « assimilation », from the 1930s to as recently as the 1960s, the separation of aboriginal children was essentially aimed at completing the genocide, by gradually expunging the last traces of Aboriginal society. Politicians, church leaders and police chiefs all proffered their apologies and ordinary citizens were invited to follow the example of the elite by signing « Sorry books » to record their apologies for the injustices suffered by the indigenous peoples. 
          One can understand apologising or even compensating the living but how all this serves the interests of those long departed people they are championing is not at all clear. What is behind this nonsensical practice of obliging the present generation to apologise for the real, or worse, the imagined misdeeds of our forefathers? One may be genuinely sorry in a general sense for whatever happened in the past, but it is difficult to see how those who actually suffered will benefit from that sadness. Political correctness seems to demand, first, the labelling of a group of disadvantaged or aggrieved people as « victims », followed by pressure being applied to the state for some kind of access to the taxpayer's hard earned monies. 
Who wants to be a victim? 
          Today's governments tend to respond to pressure from all groups able to make the most noise. It does not matter whether those noises are emanating loudly from a group like the anti-gun or smoking lobby, or are simply quiet whispers in the ear of a cabinet minister by the executives of a company seeking government assistance. The media, which is often left-wing in its sympathies, is then enlisted to bring the matter repeatedly to the attention of the voters who will in turn direct their political representatives to do something about it. Once the group of « victims » has been identified clearly in the mind of the public, then an association can be formed to represent such a group, and there is then also a golden opportunity to line one's own pockets.  
          Create enough noise and the government can begin the process of deciding how much of the taxpayer's money should be given away. Out there, waiting quietly for the next group of « victims » to appear, is an increasing band of self-appointed do-gooders. As more groups of « victims » are discovered, then these defenders will appear from the shadows. As they materialise, then more money will need to be disbursed on our behalf. That process, if repeated often enough, results in an increase in taxation to support these newly discovered « victims » and pay the often handsome salaries of their representatives. The left-wing has never yet found a cause undeserving of the massive spending of the taxpayers' money. 
     « Today's governments tend to respond to pressure from all groups able to make the most noise. It does not matter whether those noises are emanating loudly from a group like the anti-gun or smoking lobby, or are simply quiet whispers in the ear of a cabinet minister by the executives of a company seeking government assistance. » 
          In the ever litigious USA, the latest manifestations of this cult of « victimology » are lawsuits seeking redress for the mistreatment of slaves imported into America during the last three or four hundred years. Seemingly their case is based upon the successful quest, last December, by the US government for reparations to be paid to Nazi slave labourers and their families by Germany and Switzerland. The text of that agreement said that the deal was designed to pay reparations to « those whose labor was stolen or coerced during a time of outrage and shame. It is critical to completing the unfinished business of the old century before entering the new. » 
          One Randall Robinson, executive director of TransAfrica, and author of a book, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks is of the opinion that his nation's racial problems cannot be solved unless the United States compensates blacks for the massive crime of slavery. Robinson noted that the US government requested 100 slaves to construct the Capitol in Washington, a powerful symbol of freedom and democracy. Those masters who agreed to lend their slaves to the government received $5 per month per slave. Subsequently, forced labour helped to clear the land for the rest of the District of Columbia.  
          Others advocate the need for reparations not only for past injustices but also for the inequalities, which they claim are the legacy of slavery. They observe that in 1996, 39.5 percent of black children lived in poverty, compared to 15.5 percent of white children. In 1996 the infant-mortality rate for African Americans was more than twice as high as for whites, a proportional gap larger than a quarter of a century earlier. African Americans are said to make up 13-15 percent of all drug users, yet they account for 36 percent of all arrests for drug possession and, again in 1996, the incarceration rate for black men was eight times that of white men.  
Major repair works 
          Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the US Congress passed a bill calling for the seizure of Confederate property and the allocation of 40 acres of land and a mule to each former slave. A bill subsequently vetoed by President Andrew Johnson. The Michigan Representative, John Conyers, who is, unsurprisingly, a Democrat, has introduced a bill into Congress for the last dozen years. His bill seeks to establish a commission to examine slavery and its lingering effects on African Americans and the country as a whole. The commission would then make recommendations to Congress regarding such appropriate remedies as might be implemented. 
          Others, less patient, or more understanding of the ways of Congress perhaps, wish to bring lawsuits and one of them, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, based in Washington, DC, plans to sue the US government. While few would disagree about the suffering of many slaves in the Americas from the 16th to the late 19th centuries, a quick reading of history might show that there are also other possible defendants they could sue. The Portuguese began the exploitation of slaves to the Americas but it was the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which closed the War of Spanish Succession, that granted to England the sole right to supply black slaves to the Spanish colonies. In fact, England went to war with Spain when the latter tried to revoke that agreement. This demand for slaves for agricultural or plantation work quickly moved from the West Indies to North America where it soon increased until its abolition after the Civil War.  
          It was in the 2nd century AD that the Roman lawyer Florentinus said: « Slavery is an institution of the law of nations, whereby a man is contrary to nature subjected to the ownership of another. » Slavery was therefore the only human institution that was accepted as legal, despite its being considered contrary to natural law. The Roman Empire was indeed very largely founded on the work of slaves, many of whom came from the lands conquered by the Roman legions, such as Britain and Gaul. 
          Whether these lawsuits will be successful cannot be determined at this time, but the amounts of money likely to be involved may well begin to make the recent tobacco lawsuits look like the winnings at a regular Friday night poker game. The larger question is whether they should be brought at all and whether or not this defending of the « oppressed » is really as altruistic as its supporters would have us believe. More likely it is, as another commentator has suggested, the subtle fulfilment of the Marxist doctrine wherein one uses the « oppressed » to « smash » the « oppressor » and his value system, in preparation for the creation of a communist society in which all nations are oppressed. That is, oppressed in the interests of what Milovan Djilas called, when referring to the Soviet governing clique, « the new elite ». 
          The PC movement will have a lot to answer for one of these days. 
Previous articles by Ralph Maddocks
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