Political Apologies Archive

AHDA Political Apology

How does the act of apologizing enable societies to come to terms with their past?

Political apologies can be a powerful tool in the re-examination of a nation's history, and the significance this history has on democratic processes. The project includes a working list of political apologies throughout history that political scientist Graham Dodds has researched and compiled.

This is a working list of major political apologies and related events. The selection criteria for compiling the list are somewhat loose, but the intent is to include any and all apologies that involve states, nations, or major political groups and actors, generally for significant public wrongs. Thus, apologies by individual politicians for more narrow matters (e.g., alleged personal or criminal failings) are generally excluded.

Should you wish to add to the list, please e-mail ahda@columbia.edu.

Date of Apology Title Summary Source
11 May 1956 1956: Britain - Soviet Union

Great Britain apologizes to the Soviet Union for the Royal navy spying on Soviet warships.

“Soviet Receives British Apology in Frogman Case.” New York Times. May 12, 1956.
4 October 1960 1960: Soviet Union-USA Demand for U.S. apology for spying

 At the United Nations, Soviet Premier Khrushchev demands that the U.S. apologize for recent spying activity, which he termed “unprecedented treacherous acts,” before there can be any improvement in Soviet-U.S. relations.

Welles, Benjamin. “Premier Insists on U.S. Apology.” New York Times. October 4, 1960.
1963 1963: USA -African Americans compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in American down through the centuries

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, “No amount of gold could provide adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in American down through the centuries.”  Yet he calls for compensation for unpaid wages.

King, M. L. Why We Can’t Wait. 1963. p150-2.
9 May 1964 1964: South Vietnam-Cambodia straying into Cambodian territory

South Vietnam apologizes for its troops “unintentionally straying” into Cambodian territory yesterday during military action against the Communist forces.

“Saigon Sends an Apology.” New York Times. May 9, 1964.
17 February 1965 1965: Japan-South Korea Relations

 In South Korea, Japanese Foreign Minister Shinna Etsusaburo expresses “sincere regret” and “deep remorse” over the “unfortunate period” in relations between the two countries.

Nobles, Melissa. The Politics of Official Apologies. Cambridge, 2008. p155.
18 March 1965 1965: USA Alabama apologizes to Civil Rights Demonstrators

The sheriff of Montgomery County, Alabama apologizes for routing 600 civil rights demonstrators with horses and clubs yesterday.

Reed, Roy. “Accord Reached In Montgomery.” New York Times. March 18, 1965.
28 October 1965 1965: Catholic church Jewish condemnation

In a declaration entitled “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council reverses the traditional condemnation of Jews as the murderers of Jesus

Wiesel, Elie. “Nostra Aetate: An Observer’s Perspective.” Thought. December, 1992; Banki, Judith H. “The Church and the Jews.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Summer, 1997.
1965 1965: Japan-South Korea issue apology” for Japan’s 36-year colonial rule.

A joint statement issued by the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea includes “twenty vague words of apology” for Japan’s 36-year colonial rule.

 

hriver, Donald W., Jr. An Ethic for Enemies. Oxford, 1995. p135.
31 August 1966 1966: Arkansas Governor- 25 Africans refused service at a cafe

Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus apologizes after 25 Africans are refused service at a cafe.

“Africans, Rebuffed in Cafe, Get Apology From Faubus.” New York Times. September 1, 1966.
10 June 1967 1967: Israel-U.S. Attack on the spy ship the U.S.S. Liberty

Israel apologizes to the U.S. for attacking the spy ship the U.S.S. Liberty in the eastern Mediterranean two days earlier.  Thirty-four people were killed and 171 were wounded in the attack, which was apparently a case of mistaken identity during the Six Days War.  Israel later agrees to pay $12.7 in damages.

Crewdson, John. “New revelations in attack on American spy ship.” Chicago Tribune. October 2, 2007; Jacobson, Walter L. “A Juridical Examination of the Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty.” Naval Law Review. Vol. 36. Winter, 1986.
27 July 1967 1967: U.S. President proclaims a national day of prayer and reconciliation after racial riots

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson proclaims a national day of prayer and reconciliation after racial riots in Detroit kill 40 people, injure 2,000 people, and destroy 5,000 homes.

Taylor, Tim. The Book of Presidents. Arno, 1972. p563.
23 October 1968 1968: Egyptian- Israel Demand for Israel apology over agression

 Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad demands that Israel apologize to Arab states for its “aggression” in 1967

Middleton, Drew. “Egypt Demands Israeli Apology.” New York Times. October 23, 1968.
21 December 1968 1968: The United States- North Korea U.S. apology over territorial waters

The United States signs an apology prepared by North Korea, admitting that the U.S.S. Pueblo violated North Korean territorial waters.  The admission gains the release of the captured U.S. crew but not the ship.

Tavuchis, Nicholas. Mea Culpa. Stanford, 1991. p104.
14 December 1970 1970: West German Chancellor express guilt for the Holocaust

 At the site of the Warsaw ghetto, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt falls to his knees to express the guilt, sorrow, and responsibility of Germany for the Holocaust.

Schiller, Bill. “World Bids Final Farewell to Conciliator Willy Brandt.” Toronto Star. October 18, 1992.
16 November 1971 1971: Japanese Emperor Hirohito says his personally sorry for certain things in World War II

In his first meeting with foreign journalists, Japanese Emperor Hirohito says about World War II, “Yes, there are certain things which happened for which I feel personally sorry.”

“Japan’s Apologies for World War II.” New York Times. August 14, 2015.
25 September 1972 1972: Japan-China Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka realizes damage to the Chinese people through war

Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka tells visiting Chinese Premier Chou En-lai that “Japan realizes her heavy responsibility in causing enormous damage to the Chinese people in the past through the war.”

 

hriver, Donald W., Jr. An Ethic for Enemies. Oxford, 1995. p136.
3 October 1975 1975: Japan-USA Emperor Hirohito places a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier ery,

Japanese Emperor Hirohito places a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, one day after visiting the White House and calling World War II “that most unfortunate war which I deeply deplore.”

“Hirohito Honors War Dead.” The Victoria Advocate. October 4, 1975.
19 February 1976 1976: President Ford says the internment of Japanese Americans was “wrong”

 President Ford says the internment of Japanese Americans was “wrong” and officially revokes President Franklin Roosevelt’s exclusion order.

Shriver, Donald W., Jr. An Ethic for Enemies. Oxford, 1995. p165.
25 June 1976 1976: Missouri and the expulsion of Mormons

Missouri Governor Kitt Bond issues an executive order to rescind and express regret for an 1838 order by the Missouri Governor that called for the extermination or expulsion of Mormons.

 

 

Lloyd, R. Scott. “Former Missouri governor honored for rescinding Mormon ‘extermination order.’” Deseret News. May 31, 2010.
1977 1977:Spain grants an amnesty to Gen Franco's collaborators

Two years after the death of Gen. Francisco Franco, Spain grants an amnesty to his collaborators in order to help the divided nation heal and to facilitate the transition to democracy.

Sciolino, Elaine and Emma Daly. “Spaniards at Last Confront the Ghost of Franco.” New York Times. November 11, 2002.