The settler’s apology: Hannah Chong, ‘Reconciliation in Settler-Colonial States: A Study of the Political Apology’, The Yale Review of International Studies, 2018


Excerpt: In a 2016 speech in Hiroshima, former United States President Obama brought a message of peace and a call for a “moral awakening” for humanity. However, for a trip laden with symbolic gestures, such as the laying of a wreath memorializing Japanese nuclear bomb victims, a political apology was conspicuously missing; prior to the trip, it was made clear that Obama would not be apologising for his country dropping an atomic bomb on the city. non-apologetic stance despite demands from Japanese nuclear survivors hints at the significance attached to this symbolic gesture.

Despite a well-deserved reputation for being stingy with apologies, the U.S. congress did issue one in 2009. Buried in a 67-page defence appropriation spending bill was an “apology” towards particular American indigenous communities “for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted” on them. Understandably, members of the Navajo Nation were unimpressed with the “apology,” citing its lack of publicity and open acknowledgement. This episode further illustrates the importance of not only an apology, but also a proper apology to indigenous victims of settler-colonial violence. The Obama administration eventually ended in January 2017 without any significant mention of this “apology.”

Cynics decry the political apology as “mere ritual,” citing its impracticality in mending intergroup relations, since it often lacks a material dimension. Stories like this remind us otherwise: in politics, symbolic gestures matter. Hence, rather than accept the principle that political apologies are ineffective, this piece questions the role that political apologies play in the reconciliation process in settler-colonial states. With this as my primary research question, I demonstrate the symbolic contributions of the political apology towards achieving holistic reconciliation.

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