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17 July 2009

Apologizing x 304,059,724

I read this post by Paul Krugman which is basically him finding a now public email from Slate's publisher stating that he thinks Krugman (soon to be Nobel Prize winner) is a crank - supposedly because of his early on anti-Bush Administration rhetoric.

Anyways, this got me thinking. I felt like there was a general feeling of unhappiness in America beginning some time in 2002 or 2003 and lasting through the last part of 2008. I have absolutely no evidence for this. It's very possible that it was just my perception, but I really feel as though a lot of people were unsure about what our country was up to. Slight aside. My parents are a great source of information about the past events. One that I remember very vividly is my mum telling me about JFK. According to her the whole country was in somewhat of an emotional slump and it made everyone feel better to have a youthful and beautiful couple in the White House. Kennedy didn't really get anything done. He was way too young to have any sort of pull in Washington, but he made people feel better and to my mind that really counts for something. The president is, after all, mostly a figure head. I've always told people that regardless of what Obama does his initial appeal to me is that he'll make us feel better. Sounds corny I know, but when you're talking about 305 million people feeling better about their lives and their future prospects it has serious ramifications.

World War II had a deep and profound effect on the psychology of the Germans that persists to this day. We joke about it a bit - think; crazy scientist from Dr. Stangelove. We all laugh when he calls the president "mein Fuhrer!" but it's just a thinly veiled joke about the reality that Germans have to live with. What they did as a nation will go down as one of the worst atrocities that humans have ever been subjected to. How do you live down allowing a man now synonymous with mass murder to rule your country? You got behind him as a nation and undertook his bidding. Germany must now live with that. One would have to imagine that it has a profound effect on their collective psychology.

My point is this - hindsight is 20/20. There were people in Nazi Germany that knew what they as a nation were doing was wrong. The problem was that there weren't enough of these people. (Random aside; check out Valkyrie. It's unbelievably historically accurate. They even toned down certain parts to make it more believable.) You'd have to imagine that the majority of people weren't really truly into being a Nazi. But at the time... everyone was involved in it. Who in America hates American soldiers? I don't...

Human psychology fascinates me because it easily explains all sorts of otherwise incomprehensible historic events. In the case of the Nazi's there is one seminal experiment that explains the phenomenon of "I was just doing my job" - type excuses (often uttered at the Nuremberg trials). That is, the Milgram Studies (if you don't know what this is read it). There's also diffusion of responsibility and a few other things that I don't feel like talking about. The point is that people as a whole act surprisingly similar given certain environmental conditions. People tend to think that they're unique and act differently... but it's just not the case. In any given situation your behavior is fairly predictable.

For example there's a TV show called "The First 48." The premise of the show is that they follow around homicide detectives as they try to solve murders. Usually if you don't have a good lead in the first 48 hours it's a sign that you may not ever catch the culprit. It's a really sad show to watch. It's usually the same sad story; young black kid involved in some sort of drug deal shoots someone because he's defending himself. He then sobbingly confesses to the police and gets 20 years to life in jail. Another mainstay of the show is the accomplice. This person usually confesses willingly and proudly to police that they rang the door bell of the house where the person was about to be murdered or in some other way helped but did not actually pull the trigger. Of course, they too get charged with murder because of their involvement - much to their shock. I posit that this is what they, Stanley Milgram's test subjects, German citizens circa 1945, and to some degree Americans from roughly 2003-2008 all felt - to one degree or another. Ours is obviously the most subtle of the four.

We all know we were accomplices in doing something wrong. Seriously. I know, I know, I'm a crazy liberal... but seriously. He allowed torture. He started a war for no good reason. He spied on his own people without warrants and we allowed him to do it. I am of course talking about our last president. Although, oddly enough, you could say the same thing about Hitler and his cronies. The comparison is not meant to be direct. As much as I dislike Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld they and their actions don't hold a candle to Hitler and the Nazis. Wasn't it our duty to protest? This isn't up for debate. Saying what Bush's Administration did was "okay" is no longer acceptable. There were no WMD's, they tortured people, they lied to us, and we did nothing. To deny this is as ignorant as denying evolutions existence.

So what is to be done? Let's act like rational adults who know they screwed up. First, apologize to the world. Then, lets try to fix the stuff we broke as best we can. A touch of humility wouldn't hurt either.

And to those who call me a crazy liberal (my family); Reagan. Love him right? No pun intended. He despised torture (my source is the Atlantic and if that isn't credible then what is?). And I dislike all the presidents back to Woodrow Wilson minus Ike's speech about the military industrial complex.

And one last aside - Teddy Roosevelt was a badass (read the intro).

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