Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

The Liberal Media Take

On 26 November, a clash occurred between American and Pakistani troops on the Pakistan border with Afghanistan. In the ensuing combat, 24 Pakistani troops became, in Pentagon parlance, collateral damage. Pakistan’s military said the attack was intentional and the Pakistani government demanded an apology. This sounds exceedingly strange: someone kills 24 of your country’s troops in an intentional attack and your government demands an apology?

The United States could manage an expression of condolences but balked at apologizing. Meanwhile the US corporate media obfuscated the matter by reporting it as a NATO mistake.1 If it was a NATO mistake, then why should the US apologize? Is that any way to treat your allies?

The US insisted on an investigation. Why was NATO not insisting on an investigation and carrying it out?

The Pentagon issued the investigation’s report on 22 December; it stated both sides were to blame. One side was cited as US forces (not NATO), and the other side was Pakistani forces. There was no apology.2

Pakistan called the report “short on facts.”

The Pentagon did “express sincere condolences to the Pakistani people, to the Pakistani government and, most importantly, to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who were killed or wounded.”

Liberal Media Take

Democracy Now! (DN) turned to New York Times senior reporter Eric Schmitt for analysis of the US killing of 24 Pakistani troops, and they got imperialist talk. Take, for example, Schmitt’s statement “… despite the important relationship that the U.S. and Pakistan has not only over counterterrorism priorities, but also given that Pakistan is a nuclear state, and there’s a lot of concern if those nuclear weapons or any nuclear material were ever to fall into militant hands.” DN host Amy Goodman let the statement stand unchallenged.

One might naturally surmise, therefore, that Amy Goodman and DN accept the premises of the US’s “war on terror” and that the terrorists are not the US (even though the US is owning up to killings in Pakistan, and, as part of the NATO contingent, to civilian killings in Libya.)3

One might further assume that DN holds that the US has a right to nuclear weapons and the Pakistanis do not because, supposedly, there are either no militants in the US or Pakistan cannot safeguard its nuclear weapons as well as the US. The US, by the way, is a country which has lost — as in never recovered — 11 nuclear weapons.4

DN is a puzzling media. It claims, “We don’t take money from corporate advertisers. We rely on donations from our global audience — people like you — to maintain our editorial independence.”

“And with the corporate-owned media for sale to the highest bidder, the need for independent news has never been this urgent,” says DN.

Some criticize DN and see its independence as compromised by being in receipt of Ford and Rockefeller Foundation money.5 DN does not acknowledge receipt of foundation money on its donation appeal page.

At best DN can be called liberal media; nonetheless, as with any media (including this one) open-minded skepticism serves media consumers best. DN’s progressivist credentials are questionable considering its open support for the imperialist attack on Libya and its proclivity for eschewing corporate media but turning to corporate media figures as experts. In the present case DN turned to the New York Times, a newspaper that frequent DN guest Noam Chomsky calls a “masochistic exercise” in reading.

The Etiquette of Apology

If I pass by someone in close quarters, and my shoulder nudges that person, I should hope that I would immediately respond with an apology. Little incidents like that can occur in crowded confines or when one is not paying sufficient attention. A simple sorry usually smooths the situation over.

Etiquette is the art of decency; it is an essential part of the social fabric providing a set of rules/guidelines for human-human interaction. Common etiquette requires that when you wrong someone you acknowledge the wrong by apologizing for it

Furthermore, an apology should be forthcoming without prodding because an important element of the apology is sincerity. A genuine apology cannot be coerced. It is quite difficult to coerce hyperempire, and closing a border and a drone base will not cajole an apology.

Reparations would be another important element of an apology. When, through one’s wrongdoing, damage is caused, that damage should be atoned for, in an as meaningfully as possible manner, by financial compensation or other satisfactory (to the aggrieved party) compensatory manner.

Many tributaries, very tricky to navigate, flow from this main current of public avowals and disavowals; not least, must an apology lead to reparation, if it is to be to be at all meaningful? That is, without a subsequent act of reparation or restitution, can it be fully constituted as an apology? Or is the performance of a speech act something that itself makes change?6

Eight days had passed before US president Barack Obama called the president of Pakistan to express regret for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops by NATO forces.7

In his refusal to apologize, Obama fits into the company of George H.W. Bush who while vice-president said, “I will never apologize for the United States, ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”8

  1. See Elise Labott, “Pakistan military insists NATO attack was deliberate,” CNN, 16 December 2011. []
  2. News Release, “Department of Defense Statement Regarding Investigation Results into Pakistan Cross-Border Incident,” U.S. Department of Defense, 22 December 2001. []
  3. See “U.S. Admits Fault in Fatal Bombing that Killed 24 Pakistani Troops,” Democracy Now!, 22 December 2011. “NATO Forced to Admit Air Strikes Killed Dozens of Libyan Civilians, Contradicting Initial Denials,” Democracy Now!, 22 December 2011. []
  4. See No. 44, “50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons,” Brookings. See also Kim Petersen, “Nuclear Tragedy; The Struggle against Colonialism and Imperialism in Kalaallit Nunaat: Part 2,” Dissident Voice, 7 May 2007 for a nuclear explosion that occurred near the US military base in Thule, Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) in 1968. It was also denied by the Pentagon. []
  5. See bob feldman, “Alternative Media Censorship: Sponsored by CIA’s Ford Foundation?questions, questions… []
  6. Marina Warner, “Sorry: the present state of apology,” Open Democracy, 7 November 2002. []
  7. Richard Wolf, “Obama regrets Pakistani troop deaths but doesn’t apologize,” USA Today, 4 December 2011. []
  8. Quoted in “Perspectives,” Newsweek (15 August 1988): 15. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.