Sometimes saying sorry is the way to go

Bryan Nichols

Dad, is this another one of those situations that could be solved by a simple apology? – Lisa Simpson

I never apologize, Lisa. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way I am. – Homer Simpson

We must never adopt an arrogant attitude of great-power chauvinism and become conceited. – Chairman Mao Zedong, 1956

On Monday, while I maybe should have been studying for my biochemistry test, I was doing something much more important. That’s right. I was watching “The Simpsons.” Of course, I’ve seen Monday’s episode before. In fact, I’ve probably seen them all. I found the one I watched to be particularly interesting, though.

To give you a quick rundown of the plot, the conflict began when Homer insulted the garbage men. They cut off his service in response. While Marge and Lisa suggested that he just apologize, Homer refused to do so. The garbage piled up in their yard. Finally, Marge sent in a letter of apology for Homer. This restored their garbage service while setting off a whole new round of shenanigans. But those aren’t important here. What is important, at least as I see it, is the first message. Sometimes saying you’re sorry is the best thing. Even if you don’t want to. Even if you feel like it’s not your fault.

So what does this Simpsons episode have to do with anything? If I haven’t already made it painfully obvious, I think it has a lot to do with our finally resolved situation with the Chinese government.

Anyone who hasn’t lived in a cave for the past two weeks should know about that situation. Here are the facts: On April 1, an American surveillance plane and a Chinese jet crashed 70 miles off of Chinese territory. The American plane made an emergency landing on China’s Hainan island. The Chinese jet and pilot were lost.

China detained the 24 members of the surveillance plane’s crew. There were numerous attempts to diplomatically solve the problem. Just yesterday an agreement was finally reached to bring the troops home.

What was the problem? We wouldn’t apologize. Kind of.

Colin Powell said he was “sorry that a life was lost.” President Bush expressed “regret.”

Now, the problem may have been in the translation. The Chinese government wanted an apology; basically, they wanted us to take the blame. The translations of our words didn’t really cut it.

It may sound like we were arguing semantics. We were. The Chinese government wanted a very specific word. They want us to use the word Daoquin, which, according to CNN, literally means, “I speak of my failure.”

Only after the stalemate went on for 11 days did we finally say we were “very sorry.” That was enough to appease the Chinese government, who sent our servicepeople home. So could this transcontinental pissing contest have been avoided? I think so.

Let’s go back to my Simpsons analogy. Maybe it’s not perfect, but I’d hope we could see some underlying truth. Sometimes saying sorry is the best way out. So you can call me a no-good, commie, non-smelling, red, lefty pinko, but I’m glad that America apologized to China for the crash. We should have done it sooner. That’s right, even if it wasn’t solely our fault.

Some people have their reservations about the effects of the apology. Won’t it turn us into a non-player on the international scene? Won’t it allow the “Red Menace” into our homes and hearts? If we apologize, won’t Fidel begin his invasion? As ridiculous as these questions sound, they are the real concerns of many Americans. I would like to dismiss them all.

First of all, there was an obvious, utilitarian reason to apologize: We got our people back. Plain and simple, one crisis solved. What about our power on the international scene? Apologizing won’t hurt us. Saying “we’re sorry” does not mean we have a weak national defense, or that we’re any less a national power. It only means we may have been flying a plane near China with probably more on our minds than getting better reception for the Final Four. What about the “Red Menace”? Well, it’s a bunch of crap. Communism is a different form of government. That’s all. We have some good ideas. So do they. We don’t have to get all McCarthyesque about it.

Will apologizing open us up to international ridicule, even attack? Well, look at NATO’s bombing of the Chinese embassy two years ago in Yugoslavia. We said sorry. While it was certainly easier to place blame in that case, America is still standing. We still elect our presidents (maybe). Chinese President Jiang Zemin doesn’t send us a weekly card saying, “You know what sucks? You.” I bet he won’t start now.

Whether or not we were solely at fault seems inconsequential. Arguing about it didn’t help anything. In fact, as we wasted time arguing semantics, we jeopardized our fliers and our future investigation of the crash.

So while reactionaries wanted us to stand by our guns and not back down, I’m glad we took the high road. To appease everyone, we didn’t even take responsibility for the crash.

Sino-American relations are strained already. We certainly don’t need to exacerbate the problem. Saying sorry was not only the easy thing; it was the right thing. Even an 8-year-old cartoon character knows that.

Bryan Nichols is a senior in genetics from Burnsville, MN. He notices the word columnist looks a lot like communist. Hmmm.