This will be a long post, but it seems that we have lost the ability to forgive and reconcile with one another. Here’s the question I will ponder in this post, does forgiveness aid in reconciliation, or does it make a difference? I believe it does and I believe that forgiveness is the first step in reconciliation. It is clear to me from historical examples how the lack of forgiveness simply breads resentment and hate. Admitting a wrong and seeking forgiveness, therefore, are critical to the reconciliation process. From the earliest records of conflict to the present day, history provides us examples of how a lack of forgiveness breeds conflict even today.
Examples of the effects are as old as written history. The wrongs and perceived wrongs that occurred in the Crusades continue to fuel hatred by the Muslim world despite multiple Popes seeking forgiveness. The contemporary Chinese and Korean press continue to revisit the terrible treatment of Chinese civilians and the rape of Nanking by Japanese soldiers before World War 2.
There are, on the other hand, positive examples of how forgiveness has led to later reconciliation and even to lasting partnerships. The United States and Germany are close allies today despite the horrors the Nazi regime inflicted upon the world and the bitter fighting that followed. One modern example of an ongoing study in forgiveness is the United States and Russia. Even now neither side has taken responsibility for the Cold War and the many deaths that occurred during the Cold War. Because neither side has sought forgiveness or reconciliation, there is ongoing animosity that continues to fuel future conflict.
The seeds for the current Middle East conflict were sown centuries ago. Even when one side seeks forgiveness, or has even forgot about the past transgression, peace is impossible if the other party refuses to grant that forgiveness. Centuries after their conclusion, the Crusades continue to be a touch point for radical Muslims who cannot accept the apologies offered by the Catholic Church. The hatred is evident in Middle East literature and newspapers as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. Radical Muslims use references to the “crusaders” — referring to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — as a rallying point for jihad. It is evident from this model that two parties are needed to achieve true forgiveness and reconciliation.
Another example of a one-sided forgiveness is the ongoing relations between China and Japan. Widespread anti-Japanese sentiment thrives in China – mainly due to the Sino-Japanese War – the consequence of which, China suffered military casualties which may have been as high as 10 million, with at least as many, if not double, civilian casualties. This further fuels this anti-Japanese sentiment. The Japanese committed innumerable despicable acts in China, but one that continues to reverberate with the Chinese was Unit 731, a medical unit run by the Japanese Army that researched biological warfare using Chinese civilians as test subjects, who were referred to as human ‘logs’ in the medical journals. Another atrocity mentioned in Chinese and Korean literature was that women from many Asian countries were forced to serve as prostitutes in military brothels
The extent of anti-Japanese sentiment today is evident in the state-run movie and television industry. A Reuter’s article titled Why China’s film makers love to hate Japan quotes Zhu Dake, a professor at Shanghai’s Tongji University. Zhu estimates that up to 70 percent of drama on Chinese television is anti-Japanese. The Japanese apologized officially and even offered war reparation payments as part of the surrender terms in World War 2. Despite this, the Chinese do not forgive, which fuels the tensions between the two countries and Asia. When neither side forgives, it is impossible to achieve peace, and the resulting tension and resentment can linger for centuries. The continuing conflict in the Balkans, for example, show just how centuries of hate can explode and rekindle old conflicts thought to be long forgotten.
A good example of how national remorse and forgiveness has worked is the US and its relationship with Germanyn and Japan since World War 2. The first steps of forgiveness for Germany (and Japan) came immediately after the occupation of both countries ended and national governments were formed. Both the President of West Germany, Theodor Heuss, and Chancelor Konrad Adenauer publicly condemned the actions of the Nazis and sought forgiveness. The United States accepted this apology and instead of holding on to bitter feelings, instituted the “Marshal Plan”, named after then-Secretary of State George Marshall, to rebuild post-war Europe, including Germany. This truly helped in the healing process and is evident today as Germany and Japan have been and continue to be the United States most trusted allies. We see that there must first be recognition of wrongdoing to start the road to healing.
Thus far, neither the United States nor Russia has made any such recognition of wrongdoing. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States and Russia began thawing out their relationship after 50 years of Cold War. There was a chance for the US government and Russia to seek forgiveness for the mistrust and misdeeds each carried out in an effort to block the other’s national aims. While there were many diplomatic exchanges during that time, none, it seemed, centered on acknowledging Cold War wrongs done by both sides. What we see now is a Russian government that seems bent on blaming all its woes on the United States, and, now the U.S. is blaming Russia – right or wrong – for what happened in the recent elections. It is too early to tell whether this will lead to future conflict, but it certainly has not led to a better understanding between the two countries. Time will be the judge.
It is clear that there cannot be reconciliation without forgiveness. History provides legion examples in which nations, tribes, and individuals could not come to peace without acknowledging wrong, seeking forgiveness, and being forgiven. There can be no forgiveness without acknowledging a wrong in the first place. We must remember that nations are made of people and if we teach love and forgiveness, and not hate and acrimony, all things are possible.