Tuesday, March 31, 1998
President aboard, sorry about that
By George Will
SOUTH POLE, January 19, 2001 - President Clinton today apologized to Antarctica.
Speaking to an audience composed of the traveling press, Clinton said he repented of America's "sin" of neglecting this continent except when America paid a kind of improper attention to it. He regretted that during the Cold War, U.S. policy "subordinated the true interests of Antarctica to geopolitical calculations arising from the conflict with the former Soviet Union."
Last year, Clinton apologized to Russia for U.S. policies he said caused the collapse of communism. He said this diminished the world's political "diversity."
In words barely audible here over polar winds, Clinton expressed regret for the "insensitivity of American stereotyping." He said that "for too long American ethnocentrism and cultural chauvinism have caused us to think of Antarctica only as a cold and icy place."
Clinton praised the recent decision of San Francisco authorities to require high school students to read at least one novel from "the canon of Antarctic classics." America, he said, is "a gorgeous mosaic of multiculturalism" and should be ashamed of educational practices that "through centuries of cultural oppression, have privileged European contributions to art and literature over the contributions of others."
"We must not fear differences," Clinton said. "We have extended curriculum recognition far, but you can never extend it too far. Now it is time for inclusion of snow and ice."
Clinton, who has been traveling outside the United States every day since the middle of March 1998, came to this frozen setting to complete what he calls "this tour of tears." Aides say Clinton, who has spoken often of his "legacy," believes history will remember him not for pioneering new dimensions in executive privilege, but for his "foreign policy of creative contrition."
The policy was born in Uganda on March 24, 1998, when Clinton, for the first time, apologized to an entire continent in one fell swoop. In Uganda, which in the 1970s was governed by Gen. Idi Amin, Clinton encouraged Africans to dwell on the foreign sources of their sufferings.
He announced slavery was "wrong," and he essentially apologized to all Africans for all the white people who bought African slaves captured by African sellers of slaves. He also apologized because during the Cold War, America was more apt to be friendly to African nations that were friendly to America.
By telling Ugandans that "the United States has not always done the right thing by Africa," Clinton began a foreign policy built around apologies to all other peoples, nations and continents toward which American behavior has not always been perfect. In Uganda he noted Americans were precocious sinners, having had slavery to be ashamed of "before we were even a nation." But slavery was not the worst: "Perhaps the worst sin America ever committed about Africa was the sin of neglect and ignorance."
Clinton's first post-Ugandan stop in his penitential travels was Outer Mongolia. Presidential polling revealed deep American ignorance of, and unrepentant neglect of, Outer Mongolia. Clinton told a cluster of Outer Mongolians and their horses that the United States is a nation in North America and that it would try to do better by them.
The State Department, responding to Clinton's determination to be compassionate to all victims of American neglect and ignorance and sin, has organized a Bureau of Abasement.
However, Clinton has insisted that "being ashamed does not have to be all sackcloth and ashes." Last year he ordered the Air Force to give Air Force One a new name for the remainder of his presidency. The plane's new name has been painted on the nose of the fuselage: "Sorry About That!"
In his nearly 34 months of incessant traveling, Clinton has offered a generic apology for America being big, rich, powerful and happy. However, he also has regretted specific American "sins," such as forcing other nations to drink Coca-Cola, watch "Dallas" reruns, accept foreign aid and put up with the presence of the American troops that liberated them or kept them free.
Clinton insists being volubly embarrassed by one's country's actions is a form of patriotism. "Love of country," he says, "means always having to say you're sorry."
On the last full day of his presidency, Clinton flew home from Antarctica to what one adviser noted was the only country Clinton has not apologized to.
Washington Post Writers Group