Vol. 9 No. 12 (December 1999) pp. 558-562.
WHEN SORRY ISN'T ENOUGH: THE CONTROVERSY OVER APOLOGIES AND REPARATIONS FOR HUMAN INJUSTICE by Roy L. Brooks (Editor). New York: New York University Press, 1999. 536 pp. Cloth $60.00. Paper $22.95.
Reviewed by Sung-Ho Kim, Department of Political Science, Ohio University.
This is a book that must be read by all people in the world, especially those of the privileged racial and ethnic
background who believe that they should not be held responsible for human injustice perpetrated by their forebears.
There is no shrill moralizing in the book, no esoteric philosophical theses, or any legalistic acrobatics. It
is a reader-friendly anthology of learned commentaries by the distinguished as well as emerging scholars of "law
and politics," who provide analytical and evaluative
contexts to documents and eyewitness accounts from the selected cases of human injustice in the past: the Nazi persecution, the Japanese war-time practice of "sex slavery" in the occupied Asia, American racism against the Native Americans and African Americans, and the South African Apartheid regime.
Altogether sixty-four contributors and eighty-five chapters make for a bulky 536 pages of reading. It owes, however, to the extraordinary editorial skill of Roy L. Brooks (Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego) that the books acquires the kind of coherency and flow not usually expected in the edited volume. Befitting the earnest theme of human injustice and the controversial issues of redress claims, the book adopts a tenor more probing than declarative as it tugs the readers' conscience into accepting the fundamental proposition that our individual and collective life would have a greater meaning in a society that atones for the past wrongs.
In Part 1 of the book, which consists of one general introductory chapter ("The Age of Apology"), the editor provides an insightful conceptual analysis of apologies and reparations as appropriate means of national atonement. He suggests, in particular, a "theory of redress" with four elements in it. The first element is a proposition is that the demands for redress must be placed in the hands of legislators rather than judges. Thisobviously requires political pressure, the second element of any successful redress claims that can be brought to bear upon the lawmakers. Strong internal support (within the victimized group) for the redress would be the
third requirement. The fourth and final element of Brook's theory of redress is the merits of the claims.
Once the merits of redress claims are established, the remaining question is the proper form of redress. Brooks distinguishes between redress responses that are remorseful, in which the government seeks atonement for the commission of an injustice, and those that are not. The remorseful responses are properly called reparations and others settlements. Both reparations and settlements can take the
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form of monetary and nonmonetary responses. The latter type that includes amnesty, affirmative action, and various municipal services, Brooks notes, can be more effective than cash payment in meeting the individual and collective current needs of the victim group. If reparations and settlements, monetary or otherwise, are directed toward individual victims, they are intended as compensatory measures "to return the victim to the status quo ante." If directed toward the group, they are designed to be rehabilitative of the community "to nurture the group's self-empowerment or the community's cultural transformation, or at least to improve the
conditions under which the victims live." This is the "conceptual template" that the editor offers to help readers organize their thought on controversial issues of apologies and reparations for human injustice.
In addition to the general introduction, the editor provides an extremely useful synoptic introduction to each of seven topical Parts that include brief descriptions of the scope of injustice, narratives of the victims and perpetrators of injustice, and historical and legal analyses of reparations. Each Part ends not with stern judgment but with probing questions about the adequacy of redress responses by the responsible government.
Thus in Part 2 (Nazi Persecution), the central question that emerges is whether the postwar German redress programs, generally recognized as an "exemplar of meaningful national atonement for past wrongdoing," have indeed been sufficient. Here Hubert Kim, one of the "emerging" scholars and law students at San Diego whom the editor credits for the initial conceptualization of the book project, provides a concluding essay that casts some doubt on the German reputation for model atonement. In view of the lingering questions about the "forgotten" victims of the Nazi holocaust, especially the Gypsies, and the emerging issues of Swiss "complicity" (Ian Hancock), Kim's reluctance to declare the case of Nazi crimes closed would not surprise everyone.
If the question of true atonement still remains with the "exemplary" German redress behavior, the Japanese government has yet to come to terms with its inhumanity in the "Nanking Massacre" (Iris Chang) and the "sex slavery" more benignly known as the "comfort women" (Karen Parker and Jennifer F. Chew). True, the Japanese government has acknowledged that these things did take place. George Hicks, however, claims that the Japanese response had the appearance of sidestepping responsibility. He cites as evidence the establishment by the Japanese government in July 1995 of the so-called "Asian Women's Fund" to be financed primarily by the donations from private individuals and organizations. Hicks notes that, although some former comfort women have accepted money ($18,000-20,000), many have refused to apply for it because they believed that private donations constituted "consolation money" or charity and not the true "atonement money" that could
come only from the perpetrator of injustice, the Japanese government. There is an insistent view that the true national apology should come from the legislative assembly, which the Japanese Diet has refused to do. Instances of apologies by the Japanese prime ministers and other members of the government are thus taken as their individual acts and not a national apology.
An even more troubling question coming out of the "comfort women" issue
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dealt with in Part 3 of the book, however, is that of the entrenched sexist attitude of Asian men toward women. Hicks flatly states that "South Korea's subordination of women is the primary reason the Korean government.did not seek redress on behalf of Korean comfort women in the 1965 treaty" with Japan. The idea of using "sex slavery" to satisfy the carnal "needs" of the Japanese soldiers apparently seemed quite normal and justifiable to the Japanese military authority at the time. Ironically, the "comfort women" system is said to have originated from efforts by the Japanese military authority to prevent its soldiers from raping local women
in the occupied territory. Perhaps even more troubling is the suggestion that the issue of "comfort women" did not seem to matter all that much to the claimant government to turn it into a serious redress claim with the Japanese.
Part 4 deals with the wartime internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast and in western Arizona. It offers not only a penetrating analysis of American racism disguised as national security measures following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor but also a fascinating case study in the American legislative politics. In insightful analysis of the passage of the 1988 Civil Liberties Act (which provided for both congressional apologies and sizable individual compensations for the surviving Japanese American internees), Leslie T. Hatamiya shows how this "unlikely" legislative victory had been a result of the lucky convergence of various factors, rather than overwhelming public mandate for atonement in the United States.
Now comes the greatest of all American tragedies: the White American's racism toward Native Americans and African Americans. In Part 5, 6 and 7, dealing respectively with "Native Americans," "Slavery," and "Jim Crow," the central question that emerges is the issue of privity. How can the contemporary Native Americans and African Americans establish validity of the claims of redress for themselves against injustice done to their ancestors as well as the culpability of the contemporary White Americans for the slavery and Jim Crow policies practiced by their forebears?
The most powerful argument for redress comes in the form of sociological explanation that the prolonged patterns of racial discrimination have deprived the Native Americans and African Americans of their earlier opportunity to accumulate economic and social capitals, thus condemning them to a perpetual status of lower and under class. Joe R. Feagin and Eileen O'Brien go far as to say that the contemporary white privileges are a product of "unjust enrichment" when "European colonists built up much wealth by stealing the labor of African Americans and the land of Native Americans." If this makes sense to the liberal academics, it would be difficult to convince most contemporary White Americans that they bear responsibility for the "peculiar institution" of pre-Civil War America. Not only are they
mostly the descendants of European ancestors who came to the United States after slavery had ended, African Americans are many generations removed from their slave ancestors. Complaints of "reverse discrimination" in the "affirmative action" reflects the growing sentiment, if not resentment, of many White American citizens, who would be disinclined to support apologies, let alone reparations for the Native Americans and African Americans.
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Most commentators do, of course, acknowledge that the American atonement for racial injustices will not come easily, if it ever does. In fact, African Americans themselves generally do not give priority to the redress movement, and this absence of internal support, according to the editor, "is most responsible for the refusal of American political leaders (including President Clinton, who has been more attentive to African American concerns than any other American president) to offer even an apology for slavery or Jim Crow."
The last twelve chapters that constitute Part 8 are devoted to the examination of South Africa's unique way of coming to terms with its Apartheid past. As noted by Brooks in his introductory chapter to Part 8, the unique form of redress was adopted in South Africa when its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) made the difficult and very controversial judgment that amnesty for the oppressors--the state as well as individuals-- was the price the South Africans had to pay to secure reconciliation. Some argue that reconciliation, which is not happening, has been sought at the expense of justice. Others are more positive about the therapeutic role of storytelling by both victims and perpetrators. As South Africa is about to face the next phase of redress in the form of reparation and rehabilitation for the victims of Apartheid (proposed in the 1997 TRC report as "counter-balance to amnesty process"), the ultimate success in the reconciliation efforts by South Africa remains an open question.
As evident from what I have said so far, I will not be the one to find any flaw, editorially or content-wise, in this important contribution to the literature in public law and human rights. I may point out, however, that something seems to be missing in the book. It is not that there are no articulate anti-apologist views. There are. Note, for instance, the argument by Thomas Geoghegan that Lincoln has already apologized for slavery in his Second Inaugural Address, or the claim by Bernard H. Siegan, another distinguished San Diego law professor, that a "multitude of statutes and judicial rules outlawing discriminatory policies and practices" in recent
years constituted apologies for Jim Crow laws. The concerns that the redress movement may in fact stir up more inter-racial animosity rather than healing it are aired at various places in the book. We also find some sophisticated legal analyses. Thus, in "The Constitutionality of Black Reparations," Boris I. Bittker and Roy L. Brooks examine various indeterminate Supreme Court judgments (some with the narrowest 5-4 margin) of recent years that tried to balance between the color-blind principle (the equal protection of the laws) and the race-based preferences in the affirmative action programs of the government.
What is missing, however, is a sort of grand chapter that concludes the book with comparative analyses of human injustices and patterns of redress responses by different governments and societies. I would also have liked clearer delineation of the moral, therapeutic, and social engineering roles of apologies and reparations. The redress programs may indeed be the single most important act of human liberation for both the victims and "beneficiaries" of the past injustice. The public acts of atonement may not only serve to liberate the victims of injustice from self-destructive bitterness toward outside world and temptation to rationalize inactivity
toward self-help. The sincere atonement
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programs should also help free the privileged people from the feeling of guilt and lingering discomfort in openly criticizing certain members of the victim groups. After all, victim groups are not immune from constructive criticism. Racism that continues in its disguised and pernicious form of polite and patronizing gestures merely out of "political correctness" would not help much in achieving a true "color-blind" society.
Perhaps it is not fair that I should expect a grand conclusion, which obviously requires a framework of analysis in inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural comparisons with some doses of political psychology and sociology, not to speak of sophisticated theories in moral discourse. I should note that the editor expresses in the book's Preface his "ambition.to provide readers with an intellectual and informational foundation to understand the controversy over redressing human injustice and to pursue on their own further investigation into the ugly side of human nature" (emphasis added). He certainly has more than achieved this objective. As is, the book will make a perfect text for regular undergraduate and graduate courses or seminars devoted to the issues of civil and human rights in public law, interest and identity politics, and legislative politics in the American as well as comparative studies. My hope is that it will reach wider public outside the college classrooms.