In April, Israel commemorated “Yom ha Shoah (the Holocaust Remembrance Day). On this occasion, the Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas called the Holocaust
“the most heinous crime in modern history.” At the same time, Abbas has allied himself with Hamas, the terrorist organization responsible for rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas vehemently denies the Holocaust. Abbas himself had previously held the same position. Why the change now?
Turkish President Recep Erdogan also offered unprecedented apologies to the grandchildren of Armenians massacred in 1915 by Ottoman soldiers and referred to “our shared pain.” He had previously refused to admit these murders had happened. He acknowledged that 1,500,000 Armenians were killed but stopped short of calling it a genocide. A cartoon shows Erdogan shaking the hand of the Armenian Orthodox Pope and offering condolences. The Pope looks him in the eye and says “The funeral was 99 years ago.” Again, better than nothing I suppose.
In Russia, Stalin’s murders, false imprisonments, mass deportations and artificial famines are glossed over. Stalin also murdered 7,000,000 Ukrainians and was responsible for the Katyn shooting of thousands of Polish officers. Yet Stalin is still widely admired in Russia and no apologies of any kind have ever been proffered.
The Japanese army also committed atrocities just before and during World War II. (The rape of Nanking, the use of Chinese “comfort women” are just a few.) Token apologies have been offered, yet Japanese leaders still pay tribute to the “heroes” of World War II to the indignation of Chinese and Korean citizens who were their victims.
To my knowledge, only Germany, whose war crimes were perhaps the most loathsome, has squarely confronted its past with honesty and offered substantial reparations.
Patriotism and Chauvinism are solidly ingrained in nations’ psyches and are reinforced by school indoctrination and the celebration of national holidays where the glories of the past are displayed and shameful events are conveniently forgotten. Yet there is more to be proud of in acknowledging ethical failure and moral collapse while embarking on a different course.