Sunday, 25 March 2012


The year 2004 shook the world. In late April 2004 pictures of a Specialist Lynndie England subjecting Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib to sexual, physical and psychological abuse shocked the sensitivities of the whole world. Arguably, these pictures - with gory details of forced masturbation, extreme humiliation, forced to move around on  leash like dogs etc - turned the 'Global War on Terror' (GWOT) into an abject hatred for the America and Americans. Those few pictures made American lives unsafe in many parts of the world. How could they be proud of a civilisation that could produce such demented soldiers in uniform? Terrorism is bad, evil, with immoral and questionable methods to try to get what the terrorists feel should be theirs by right; but, wait a minute, what about the methods of the people belonging to the most liberal civilisation in the world?

One of the pics of Abu Ghraib with Lynddie England that shocked the world
Lynndie England was court-martialled in 2005 and awarded five years of imprisonment. On being released from prison she tried to convince the world that she is the one who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Two days ago she also gave an interview that she wasn't sorry for her actions and didn't feel like saying sorry to the enemy that was hell-bent on killing fellow Americans; thus giving vent to her own version of 'everything is fair in love and war'.
Lynndie England being taken for her imprisonment (Pic courtesy: Wikipedia)
Why is it so hard to say sorry? What goads a person or a nation to justify its actions by bringing out that we/I did to them what they did to us/me? Is there no end to recriminations? Is there no way people and nations can move on by acknowledging remorse and contrition? The problem about historical narratives is always the same: 'how far back in history one is prepared to go'? Today's saints are yesterday's rogues and vice-versa. Is it a fact that shorn of our current beliefs about our morality and ethics, we have all erred or sinned sometime or the other? If yes, then saying 'sorry' may not be an act of weakness but of strength born out of the realisation that what the so called evil are doing today, each one of us (our predecessors and successors) is capable of the same. 'Hate the evil and not the evil doer' then becomes a significant philosophy for all of us rather than a sermon only by the one seeped in religion.

The message of looking at all people as variations of ourselves was also lost on Brigadier General (a temporary rank he held) Reginald Edward Harry Dyer. He translated the need for law and order and desire to suppress any movement to overthrow British rule into an expression of his personal hatred towards the innocent men, women and children at Jalaianwalla Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab. On 13 Apr 1919 when these people assembled at the Bagh to celebrate Baisakhi (not really conscious of the martial law in force), Dyer took it upon himself to "teach them a lesson". He directed the fire to the places where the crowds were the thickest and also barred all escape or exit gates. The official estimate was that about 379 people were massacred and over a 1000 injured. However, unofficial estimates make the deaths at more than a thousand. Did Dyer feel remorseful? Did people of England feel so? The Butcher of Amritsar, as he was called, was a celebrated hero on his return and even given a purse of 26000 pounds for his heroic deeds that saved Punjab. A few years back, exactly in the mould of Lynndie England, when the Queen of India visited India, it was suggested to her that she could apologise on behalf of a nation, thus bringing the wounds of the massacre to a closure. Exactly like Lynndie England, the Queen of England felt sorry about not being sorry.
General Dyer: Sorry About Not Being Sorry at the massacre of the innocent
He died of a series of strokes in his later years, speechless and paralytic. He, at that time showed remorse only for himself: "Thank you, but I don't want to get better. So many people who knew the condition of Amritsar say I did right...but so many others say I did wrong. I only want to die and know from my Maker whether I did right or wrong."

Another historical massacre took place from Dec 1937 to Jan 1938 when the Imperial Japanese Army subjected the innocent at Nanjing, China to torture, deaths, rapes and humiliations. The story of Nanjing Massacre is also known as the story of Nanjing Rape; replete with mass murders, rapes etc over a period of six weeks in the Second Sino-Japanese War. I visited the place two years ago and saw how painstakingly the Chinese have maintained the records that would perhaps escape the scrutiny of the Western world and the Japanese.
At the Nanjing Massacre museum
The description of the Massacre at the Entrance
More than 200, 000 people were victims of these massacres. The most horrible was the Contest between two Japanese officers about who would be the first one to behead 100 innocents with his sword. Photographs of these beheadings are displayed in the Museum including that of the sword, which is now held in another museum. The Chinese have kept records of all those butchered and these are on display in the Nanjing Museum as below:

Painstaking Records of all those who died in Nanjing Massacre
What did the Japanese do? They formally apologised  on 15 Aug 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the Surrender of Japan, to countries like Korea in Asia for war crimes but refused to acknowledge that Nanjing Massacres ever took place. Remorse? Ha, it is easier to perpetrate than to apologise.

The history of occupation of Diego Garcia by United States by evicting the original inhabitants and then lying to the whole world that the island was uninhabited is another case of lack of remorse. Though not so horrible as massacre, a forcible eviction causes considerable trauma. I visited Mauritius and found that some of them and their successors are still fighting case in International Court of Justice for such wrongful eviction. No remorse, no saying sorry; everything is fair for the powerful.

Recently, the smiling pictures of Staff Sgt Robert Bales of the US made rounds after having killed 17 innocent civilians in a mad spree of vengeful killings. To give credit to the US, Bales is now on trial for the killings. However, he and his lawyer haven't displayed even an iota of contrition.

What makes men and women to do horrible things to fellow men and women is not the subject of this article. What makes them to be unapologetic even after years of such acts of monstrosity is, however, worthy of introspection. Could it be that each one of us - people and nations - have a philosophy of convenience that makes us call ourselves virtuous, moral and good and find reasons for our own wrongs in the acts of others.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind". Will we ever regain our individual and collective blindness and see ourselves as what all of us really are. For all the wrongs done, for all the carnage, looting, rapes, massacres, deception, betrayal, cheating, loot, lies and evil, an apology wouldn't totally heal the wounds. But, we ain't even apologetic. "They too did to us", "It was a war necessity" and "They deserved worse" is all we can say, whilst being adamant that there is no point in being sorry.

To end, an atomic bomb called Little Boy was dropped over Hiroshima on 6th Aug 1945 and Fat Boy over Nagasaki on 9th Aug 1945. Nearly 250,000 perished and people still suffer of the atomic fall-out but we are Sorry about not being Sorry.

Pic Courtesy:


  1. A very well written article. I have wondered why we Indians find it hard to say sorry. I guess it is ingrained in us from a very young age. When trying to get into a train or bus, we find well educated people jostling and pushing each other to be the first in, to get a seat. They are not apologetic or sorry to their co-passengers. No way. The one's who get a seat are proud of their achievement. And if we actually felt sorry, I am sure we wouldn't repeat the same thing again and again.

    1. Entirely agree. Indeed, when an article in the Readers Digest called us the rudest people on earth, we went to town denigrating the article. We don't say sorry easily. Most of us when asked to say sorry, counter it by, "Sorry for what? I didn't do anything wrong".

  2. Sorry from the heart is an easy thing to do, since you are already feeling remorse, but lip service sorry is shrouded in pride, and "I am superior" attitude.

    That is where a character of a person, family, culture come into limelight.

    A thought provoking article.


    1. Thank you. I read somewhere that 'men and nations behave wisely after they have exhausted all other options'. Sorry, therefore, happens to be the last resort.


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