A Sorry State

During a visit of the Spanish prime minister to Mexico, the president of that country wanted Spain to apologize for the abuses committed half a millennium ago by the conquistadores. This made about as much sense as the British prime minister asking Italy to apologize for the Roman conquest, or for that matter Denmark or France, for the same reason.

It also makes about as much sense as that Spain should demand the thanks of every Mexican each time he travels in a wheeled vehicle, or even uses a wheelbarrow, since before the arrival of the Spanish the wheel was unknown in Mesoamerica. Those who want to call nations to account should remember that double-entry bookkeeping has been in existence for a long time.

The president of Mexico’s demand was absurd, of course; there would have been no such place as Mexico to be president of if it had not been for the conquistadores, and he was much more a legatee of them than was the prime minister of Spain. Perhaps he himself should have offered an apology to the pure-blooded indigenous people of Mexico, if he could have found any; but even if he had done so, he might have recalled that some of the indigenous people were on Cortes’ side. The Aztecs were not social democrats.

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When calls for apology come, can claims for compensation be far behind? Thereby is raised that greatest hope of humanity, namely the dream of living, or becoming rich, at someone else’s expense. I can’t say that this hope has never occurred to me, and I doubt that there are many people to whom it has never occurred; but it is rarely realized, this hope, and even more rarely does it do any good when it is realized.

If there is an economically sadistic desire of leaders to make other countries pay compensation to their own, there is also a pseudo-masochistic desire of leaders of other countries to apologize for the supposed past misdeeds of their countries, and thus open themselves, or rather the people they represent, to claims for compensation. If the hoped-for compensation is not forthcoming or if it is deemed insufficient, the result is more bitterness than if the apology had never been offered in the first place. This explains one of the many reasons for never going to law: the bitterness the whole procedure provokes. I doubt that one out of twenty actions for compensation ends in full satisfaction for anyone (except the lawyers, for whom it is more or less guaranteed).

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