“May you live in interesting times.”
– Ancient Chinese Proverb (and Curse)
By Cliff Dunn
I think it is important for a people, or a nation, to acknowledge its mistakes, and where mere acknowledgement is not enough, to offer deeds and actions by way of redress and restitution. This is why most civilized people can accept the payment of reparations to World War II-era Japanese-Americans who were detained without legal basis as just.
(It is also why many Americans feel the need to make personal restitution for 19th Century wrongs perpetrated by white settlers upon indigenous Native Americans by tithing a substantial proportion of their weekly earnings at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, and other like-minded entrepreneurial manifestations of their descendants— and quite possibly the Great Ghost Spirit, who may have a sense of humor, after all.)
It explains, also, the “two minds” of many Americans (myself among them) when the subject of reparations for slavery to African-Americans is addressed. Most people recognize the horror and injustice of the institution of slavery, but learned scholars on all sides of the issue (including the eminent African-American Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates, who in a 2010 New York Times editorial advised reparations activists to consider the African role in the slave trade in regards to who should shoulder the cost for reparations) are hard-pressed to find definitive “accountability” for the Middle Passage which brought Africans to the Western Hemisphere in chains, and kept their descendants in bondage, between 1619 and 1865.
This sense of justice can also manifest in the reverse, where the actions of one’s forebears are so repugnant and shameful that the psyche rebels at accepting responsibility for something so foul. (We feel a large measure of this in our nation’s internal debate on slavery reparations, as above.) The historic Nanking Massacre (or Rape of Nanking)—a mass murder and war rape during the six-weeks beginning in December 1937, following the Japanese capture of the city of Nanking— resulted in such rape, looting, and murder on a widespread scale (an estimated 300,000 people were butchered by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army), that an honest dialog remains impossible to this day among the Japanese themselves, so great is the guilt and horror of acknowledging it among the descendants of the perpetrators.
The decision this week by the platform conference of the Democratic National Committee to call for a measure supporting same-sex marriage at this summer’s national party convention is historic and overdue. Admittedly, the first is obvious and the second arguable, as LGBT rights seem to have hit their stride with breakneck speed in just a few short years, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the passage of gay marriage laws in six states and the District of Columbia, expansion of federal partner benefits, and a judicial assault (but, you know, in a good way) on the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act—or, at least the parts of it that the U.S. Constitution finds objectionable.
There was some misgiving expressed with the DNC “coming out” in support of same-sex marriage at its 2012 summer convention, which will be held next month in Charlotte, North Carolina—a state where marriage equality was defeated by voter referendum. Many persons of goodwill—some liberals and progressives, but by no means all of them—think that a plank supporting gay marriage that is announced in Charlotte will cast the Dems as outof- touch with many Americans (thank God, since those are just the sort of Americans I don’t want in-touch with me). I don’t see it that way. I see Charlotte as an opportunity that the Democrats have courageously chosen not to miss, an opportunity to advocate inclusion and righting a wrong that many people didn’t even know existed until a few years ago.
That’s fine. Even a lapsed-Catholic like me has enough Latin in him to recall that the back of the dollar bill depicts an unfinished pyramid with the Latin date 1776, and proclaims the motto Annuit Coeptis: “He”— God—“favors our undertaking.” That unfinished pyramid is us—the United States—and He—God (whatever that means to you or me as individuals, Roman Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and what have you)—wants us to finish the pyramid, as the work requires.
Proclaiming that a right includes all Americans is an acknowledgment that we are all accountable to one another as countrymen, and that we have nothing for which to apologize as equal Americans under one law and one nature. It also says that while I may not “like” what you do (or even much like you), I grant that those same rights and responsibilities accrue to all of us—one nation, under God.