February 14, 2005
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         Travis Charbeneau  3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221
            travischarbeneau@gmail.com    Phone: 804 358 0417

                           Mistakes Were Made
                           Travis Charbeneau
                            slug "mistakes"
                               792 words
PULL QUOTE: "Why is the sincere admission of human fallibility, an 
act considered wise and mature in individuals, so impossibly 
humiliating for a crowd?"
     Individual humans make mistakes, but, incredibly, large groups 
do not. This must be why, instead of an apology for this or that 
folly or crime, we always get the mysterious "mistakes were made" 
from governments or just large institutions.
     The only exception to this rule seems to be the "decent 
interval." This is a period of from 50 to over 100 years, after which 
it is sometimes deemed safe to say, "we" made a mistake, when "we" 
clearly mean "those incompetents who _used_ to run the place." Thus 
America could apologize in 1988 to our West Coast Japanese 
incarcerated in 1942, or France could apologize in 1995 for their 
treatment of Dreyfus in 1895, or the Catholic Church could sort of 
apologize for the Crusades after nearly 1000 years.
     Unhappily for victims, regret must be timely to have meaning. 
Waiting until the judgment of history is literally howling at your 
door for an apology tends to weaken its healing force. Contrarily -- 
a sufficiently prompt apology might actually mitigate the offense. In 
1968, if Nixon's "Secret Plan" to end the War in Vietnam had involved 
a "mistakes were made" instead of five more years of slaughter, 
America might not be re-fighting Vietnam in 21st Century elections.
     So why is the sincere admission of human fallibility, an act 
considered wise and mature in individuals, so impossibly humiliating 
for a crowd?
     Or is it? We can't really say. The sincere admission has never 
been tried.
     Instead, following every Watergate, Iran-Contra, or Monica, we 
habitually find a President suffering more from the fall-out of his 
attempted cover-up than he would have from a frank, quick confession. 
It's a now-familiar cautionary tale, to which pundits add, "Americans 
love to forgive." Maybe we do. But, again, we only get the denials 
and evasions -- all of which aggravate the original offense, 
ultimately requiring the even bigger apology: " -- and I'm sorry I 
lied about it."
     But suppose the pundits are naive? Suppose my "crowd of 
individuals" is just a "mob"? Individuals might forgive a sexually 
silly President. A mob might burn him at the stake, or even impeach 
him! And what if the offense is worse (admittedly hard to imagine) 
than sex?! 
     Suppose Richard Nixon had spared the extra 25,000 dead American 
soldiers killed 1968-73 by getting them out of Vietnam in 1968? Would 
the families of the 25,000 pre-1968 dead soldiers happily forgive our 
mistaking Ho Chi Minh for another Hitler, nationalism for communism, 
whole countries for dominoes? Nixon could have blamed the Democrats, 
and Eisenhower ("I was only Vice President!"), but the apology speech 
would still contain some pretty complicated stuff for the people who 
loved the dead soldiers. And the "Silent Majority." Nixon wanted re-
election in '72. So he killed another 25,000 Americans, and literally 
countless Vietnamese (until Kissinger arranged our own "decent 
interval" -- two years).
     In order to do this and get any sleep at night, I suppose Nixon 
had to truly sort of believe that Ho really was another Hitler. As 
per the last election, it's always easier to be a True Believer than 
     This puts President Bush, True Believer Extraordinary, in an 
unfortunate position. Like Nixon, he's killed a lot of people for a 
pack of lies. And he's told even more lies and made even more 
mistakes trying to cover his ... self. He could have fired his 
subordinates for letting 9/11 or Iraq happen, and helped us all out 
with a timely "mistakes were made." Instead, he handed out medals and 
promotions. I sense a pattern.
     Unhappily, Bush began by True Believing that Weapons of Mass 
Destruction were due any minute from Saddam, who also ran Al Qaeda. 
It turned out that, like 9/11, "mistakes were made" on that stuff, 
but never mind, Saddam was ... another Hitler! And now America's 
_real_ mission is to rid the world of tyrants.
     Like Pinocchio's nose, the "mistakes" grow until America is no 
longer just defending itself from WMDs, but gloriously picking up the 
tab on tyranny for the entire planet -- excepting Saudi Arabia, China 
and other special friends.
     Maybe the Iraqi election will produce a happy government that 
invites us to leave, and all will be well that ends. I hope so for 
Iraq and the many dead. Because we're in for a long apology watch, no 
matter how rosy the final outcome. Stupid sex is one thing. But, once 
you've gone and killed people, "quick to forgive" can get slow.
     Maybe, like Vietnam, the President, Inc. will deny everything. 
Then, after a decent interval, once the radioactivity dies down, a 
future president may admit "mistakes were made" or even say bad 
things about the incompetents who _used_ to run the place. Then we 
can lynch him.