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Dishonest Non-Patriot By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, December 18, 2008


The former president of once prestigious Union Seminary in New York has been awarded $200,000 for his recent book urging a more apologetic America. Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds by the Rev. Donald Shriver conventionally urges apologies for slavery and treatment of tribal peoples. More provocatively, he suggests apologies for displaced Tories during the American Revolution, to Mexicans for the Mexican War, to Filipinos for the Spanish American War, to Germans and Japanese for aerial bombing during World War II, to Koreans and Vietnamese, and of course to Iraqis.

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville are enthusiastically presenting the cash award to Shriver as part of the H. Charles Grawerneyer Award. "We look for works that are creative, and that treat important topics with clarity and power," explained admiring Professor Susan Garrett at the Louisville seminary to the Presbyterian News Service. "Uncritical love of country, love that refuses to see and publicly acknowledge past errors is destructive to the social fabric and permits continuing misdeeds," she gushed. "By contrast, Shriver shows that public recognition and collective repentance for wrongs done promote mending of that fabric and open the way to a better future for all."

Shriver examines America's countless sins through the prism of modern Germans who are atoning for Nazi crimes, and for current South Africans, seeking to expose Apartheid's misdeeds. "Shriver suggests what repentance and reparation might look like on a wider scale in America, and provides much food for thought regarding present American crimes for which we will likely feel a need to repent at some point in the future," Professor Garrett enthused.

It's a safe assumption that a book about reasons for American gratitude, rather than apologies, would not have received a $200,000 prize from Garrett and her colleagues.  

Not just writing about American apologies, Shriver has actually practiced it. In 2004, he appeared with other apologetic American clerics in a commercial on Al-Jazeera to apologize for America's sins at Abu Ghraib. "A salaam aleikum," Shriver declared to his Arab audience. "As Americans of faith, we express our deep sorrow at abuses committed in Iraqi prisons. We stand in solidarity with all those in Iraq and everywhere who demand justice and human dignity. We condemn the sinful and systemic abuses committed in our name, and pledge to work to right these wrongs." The ad was organized and paid for by Faithful America, a project of the National Council of Churches.

More recently, Shriver spoke about his "Honest Patriots" book at the University of Virginia. He wondered why Americans could not as readily commemorate and admit their crimes as Germans have for Nazism. "Germans have a keen interest in American history especially the history of Native Americans," he noted. "They are prompt to call it a genocide, and they wonder why the real history of native Americans gets buried in cowboy-and-Indians movies. I tell them that we are doing better these days in the history books and in the movies, but we have a long way to go. Is there, for example, any memorial in Charlottesville to the Indians who used to live here?"

It's understandable why Germans might be anxious to liken their history's unspeakable crimes with America's. But a serious historian would point out that no American government, for all the injustices that many Indians suffered, ever purposefully plotted their annihilation. Indians were long both vilified, and romanticized, in American culture, never akin to unbridled Nazi hatred for Jews. Geronimo rode in Teddy Roosevelt's 1905 inaugural parade. It's hard to see a Jewish leader similarly honored at a Nazi rite.      

But Shriver will not let go of his comparison of American history with Nazi Germany. "Can you imagine what Germany's international relations would be if its leaders had said to the world: "OK, Nazism is history. Let's get on with the future and forget about the Holocaust," he asked in Charlottesville. "One of these days the international relations of the USA may have to improve as we display a great deal more honesty of our roles in world history. We might begin with our 1900 invasion of the Philippines, before we tackle the gross mistakes of our Iraq War." And naturally, Shriver lamented that Americans, lacking empathy, had unreasonably shown such "widespread horror at Jeremiah Wright's much-quoted sermon in which he said that many of his constituents would as soon say 'God damn America' as 'God bless America.'"

Shriver also recalled with some satisfaction that the 1992 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas had been neutralized by the complaints of American Indian activists. "Is there any wonder that native Americans consider Columbus the villain in their history?" he asked. He suggested that Columbus Day be replaced with "All America Day" as to "season our pride as Euro-Americans with memory of the devastations to some, as well as the benefits to others, of the
European arrival on these shores."   

In an article for World Policy Journal several years ago, Shriver rehearsed some of his upcoming apologetic arguments for "Honest Patriots."  "Disentangling justified, unjustified, heroic, and atrocious actions on the American side of its wars remains a permanent challenge to this country's historians, public leaders, and citizens," he regretted. "We Americans have scarcely begun a morally mature public debate on the assaults of terrorists on us on 9/11 nor on our assault on Iraq in 2003."  

Shriver regretted that Americans would not go to war to help victims of genocide among the Armenians, Cambodians, Kurds, Shiites, Bosnians, or Rwandans. He arrived at the "shamed conclusion that across many administrations, Democratic and Republican, Washington has taught us citizens that the United States will go to war for oil but not to halt mass murder." And he wondered: "For what displays of hubris, in our current collective stance in the world, may the American government one day have to consider apologizing?"

A veteran of World War II, Shriver evidently forgot its lessons in favor of the sterile ideologies of left-wing seminary fads. America has indeed gone to war, directly or indirectly, against many of the perpetrators of genocide in the 20th century, including, most recently, Saddam Hussein. Shriver's Honest Patriots sounds neither patriotic, nor honest.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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