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
May 1988 1988: Soviet Union-USA Death of death of U.S. Major Arthur Nicholson

At a summit conference in Moscow, Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov apologizes to U.S. Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci for the shooting death of U.S. Major Arthur Nicholson by a Soviet sentry in 1985 in East Germany.

“Soviets regret killing of U.S. major in 1985.” New York Times. June 15, 1988.
3 July 1988 1988: USA-Iran U.S. downing of an Iranian passenger jet

President Reagan expresses regret to Iran over the U.S. downing of an Iranian passenger jet over the Persian Gulf that killed all 290 persons aboard.

Moore, Molly and Bill McAllister. “Reagan Apologized to Iran for Downing of Jetliner.” Washington Post. July 6, 1988.
22 February 1988 1988: Televangelist confesses begs your forgiveness

Responding to allegations of frequenting prostitutes, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart confesses to 8,000 parishioners and says he will step down from the leadership of his ministry, saying, “Oh, I have sinned against you, and I beg your forgiveness.”

King, Wayne. “Swaggart Says He Has Sinned; Will Step Down.” New York Times. February 22, 1988.
10 August 1988 1988: U.S. President signs into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

 U.S. President Ronald Reagan signs into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.  The act apologizes on behalf of the people of the U.S. for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  The Act also authorizes $1.2 billion for payments of $20,000 to each of the roughly 60,000 internees still alive and for the establishment of a $50 million foundation to promote the cultural and historical concerns of Japanese Americans. The act also includes the Aleut Restitution Act, formally apologizing for forcibly evacuating Aleutian Islanders after a series of Japanese attacks in World War and interning the evacuees in southeastern Alaska, where many of them died.  The U.S. also pays compensation of $12,000 to each of the few hundred survivors.

Japanese Relocation.” 1943. (Film.); Cose, Ellis. “Forgive and Forget?” Newsweek. April 21, 1997; Wink, Walter. “Excuse Me!” The Christian Century. October 21, 1998; Irons, Peter, ed. Justice Delayed. Wesleyan, 1989; Horwitz, Tony. Blue Lat
22 December 1988 1988: South Korea grants an amnesty for 281 political prisoners

South Korean President Roh Tae Woo grants an amnesty for 281 political prisoners.

“Amnesty From Seoul Releases 218 Jailed On Political Charges.” New York Times. December 22, 1988.
23 November 1988 1988: South Korean -Abuses by president

 Former South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan apologizes to the nation for abuses during his eight years in power and says he is prepared to be punished.

Mydans, Seth. “Korean Ex-President Offers His Apology For Abuse of Power.” New York Times. November 23, 1988.
22 September 1988 1988: Canada-Japanese Canadians redress agreement for Japanese Canadians

Canadian Prime Minister Peter Mulroney apologizes to Japanese Canadians for wrongs committed during World War II and signs a redress agreement.

http://redressanniversary.najc.ca/redress/
18 August 1988 1988: Canada’s All-Native Circle -United Church of Canada acknowledgement of 1986 apology

Canada’s All-Native Circle Conference officially acknowledges but does not accept the August, 1986 apology from the United Church of Canada for past wrongs inflicted on them.

Tavuchis, Nicholas. Mea Culpa. Stanford, 1991. p111.
31 December 1989 1989: The USA- Nicaragua apology to Nicaragua

The U.S. apologizes to Nicaragua for the search of the Nicaraguan ambassador’s residence in Panama City by American troops.

Friedman, Thomas. “U.S. admits error in entering home of Managua envoy.” New York Times. December 31, 1989.
February 1989 1989: South Dakota- Reconciliation between Indians and whites

South Dakota Governor George Mickelson proclaims 1990 the Year of Reconciliation between Indians and whites, to mark the 100th anniversary of the killing of some 150 Sioux Indians by the U.S. Cavalry at Wounded Knee.

Worthington, Rogers. “100 Years After Death Of Sitting Bull, South Dakotans Pass The Peace Pipe.” Chicago Tribune. September 4, 1990.
18 February 1989 1989: Iranian president Hojatolislam Ali Khamenei says death threat could be lifted if Rushdie were to apologize for his book “The Satanic Verses

Iranian president Hojatolislam Ali Khamenei says that the death threat for author Salman Rushdie could be lifted if Rushdie were to apologize for his book “The Satanic Verses.”

Ibrahim, Youssef M. “Iranian qualifies threat to author.” New York Times. February 18, 1989.
13 April 1990 1990: East German Apologizes for Nazi crimes and to Israel

After 40 years of denial, the new East German parliament issues an apology for Nazi crimes and says it is willing to pay reparations and to seek ties with Israel.

Protzman, Ferdinand. “The East Germans issue an apology for Nazis’ crimes.” New York Times. April 13, 1990.
13 April 1990 1990: Soviet Union -Poland Soviet Union accepts responsibility for the 1940 massacre of Polish POWs

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev admits the Soviet Union was responsible for the 1940 massacre of Polish POWs at the Katyn forest.

Bohlen, Celestine. “Russian Files Show Stalin Ordered Massacre of 20,000 Poles in 1940.” New York Times. October 15, 1992; Boyes, Roger. “Yeltsin Snubs Katyn Massacre Ceremony.” The Times. (London) June 6, 1995.
April 1990 1990: Chilean President creates a Truth and Reconciliation Commission

 Chilean President Patricio Aylwin creates a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Weissbrodt, David and Paul W. Fraser. Book Review. Human Rights Quarterly. V 14, N 4 (November, 1992).
4 March 1990 1990: Chilean President asks forgiveness from families of the victims of repression during the country’s dictatorship

Chilean President Patricia Aylwin asks forgiveness from families of the victims of repression during the country’s dictatorship.

http://www.chile-riga.com/reports/ChileReports15.pdf
5 May 1990 1990: Ohio Governor Richard F. Celeste apologizes for the 1970 Kent State shootings

Ohio Governor Richard F. Celeste apologizes for the 1970 Kent State shootings.  (Celeste took office twelve years after the shootings.)

Dionne, E.J., Jr. “After 20 Years, Apologies for Kent State Dead.” Washington Post. May 5, 1990.
6 July 1990 1999: Iran USA downing of an Iranian passenger jet

Iran asks the U.S. for an official apology to the Iranian government and nation for the July, 1988 downing of an Iranian passenger jet.  (President Reagan expressed regret in 1988.)

“Iran Demands U.S. Apology for Downing.” Xinhua News Agency. July 6, 1999.
27 May 1990 1990: South Korea-Japan Occupation of Korea

South Korean leader Roh Tae Woo accepts Japanese Emperor Akihito’s words of regret for the occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

“South Korean leader accepts Japanese Emperor’s apology.” New York Times. May 27, 1990.
7 December 1991 1991: Japanese parliament considers apologizing for the Pearl Habour attack but decides not to do so

On the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese parliament considers apologizing for the attack but decides not to do so.

Sowell, Thomas. “Let the Dead Bury Their Dead.” Forbes. February 3, 1992.
4 December 1991 1991: Japan expresses “deep remorse” for the wartime suffering

 Japanese Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe expresses “deep remorse” for the wartime suffering that followed Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Asada, Sadao. “The Mushroom Cloud and National Psyches.” [In Hein, Laura and Mark Selden, eds. Living With The Bomb. M.E. Scharpe, 1997.] p182.