- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 1999

More than half a century after the first bombshell exploded on Wheeler Field eight miles from Pearl Harbor, Americans still mourn the loss of 2,403 persons who died 58 years ago today.
However, history such as what happened Dec. 7, 1941, can be “healed” through forgiveness and repentance, says a Portland, Ore., author whose second book on a forgiveness theme is due out this month.
Michael Henderson’s first book, “The Forgiveness Factor,” published in 1996, examines case histories of forgiveness, mostly concerning World War II. This year’s book, “Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate,” focuses on how groups, races and nations can release their hatred for their enemies.
“For a long time, people dismissed forgiveness as personal or religious,” said the British-born newspaper columnist and radio personality. “It is thought of as soft, but people now realize it has ramifications for national and international policies.”
He mentions an international group of Christians visiting Jerusalem earlier this year on the 900th anniversary of the city’s sacking during the Crusades. Their public apologies including one from a descendant of one of the Crusader knights came at the end of a three-year Reconciliation Walk beginning in Cologne, the German city where the Crusades began. Many Muslim observers were especially touched.
He mentions efforts by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to move his country toward repentance and reconciliation, as well as the desire of both sides in the Catholic-Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland to end their warfare.
President Clinton made forgiveness a theme during his November visit to Kosovo. There, he urged the ethnic Albanians to consider forgiving their former Serbian oppressors.
But forgiveness is not always a given. When Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama visited this country in 1995, he was not initially inclined to say something about Pearl Harbor.
After U.S. pressure, the prime minister produced “words of regret,” but not guilt over the bombing. The Japanese have likewise found it difficult to apologize over another atrocity, the “Rape of Nanking,” which the Japanese committed against the Chinese in 1937. An estimated 300,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians died.
“The spectacle of one nation demanding an apology from another, I find ridiculous,” Mr. Henderson said. “It sometimes reflects a lack of honesty about our own nation’s shortcomings.”
Mr. Henderson said that only in this decade have Americans apologized for interning Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Mr. Murayama’s words of regret were not the first attempt by Japanese officials to address this issue. Mr. Henderson recalls a Japanese delegation entering the floor of the House of Representatives in 1950.
“Diet member Tokutaro Kitamura, speaking from the rostrum, apologized for the tragic trouble that we have caused to the people of the United States,’ ” Mr. Henderson said.
The United States exacted revenge for Pearl Harbor four years later when it dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Hiroshima officials took a step toward forgiveness. The city inscribed “Sleep in peace. We will never make the same mistake again.” on a memorial in the center of town.
In “Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate,” Mr. Henderson spotlights those who were able to forgive their adversaries.
“I’ve spent my life working for reparations,” he said. There is no set equation that equals forgiveness, he explains. Instead, it is a personal, unique experience for each individual.
“Forgiveness remains a mystery and cannot be confined by theory,” he writes. “It is hard to discover why some people will forgive and others will not.”
Forgiveness on a corporate and national scale came to the fore during the massive October 1997 Promise Keepers rally on the Mall. There, one of the white speakers knelt before thousands to ask forgiveness from all the black men present.
“We are capable in our corporate identities of offending a righteous God and racism is something he hates,” said John Dawson, the Christian leader who knelt. “I think hundreds of thousands of white men kneeling in public shame before God, over the shame of racism, released the blessing of God on the land.
“If God is what he says he is in the Bible, then what we did pleased Him, if we followed through on it.”
Starting last year, Mr. Henderson worked to initiate National Sorry Day in Australia. Now, May 26 is a time of reconciliation between the Aborigines and descendants of those who colonized the country in the 18th century.
Mr. Henderson, who is associated with the Center for Reconciliation in Caux, Switzerland, said almost anyone can forgive. He describes Irene Laure, an executive member of the Socialist Party in France during World War II. When Germany conquered France, her family joined the Resistance. Her family suffered the hardships of war and her son died under torture by the German Gestapo.
At a reconciliation conference at Caux, she realized that her hatred for Germany would only further the problems Europe faced.
“I had to face the fact that hatred, whatever the reason for it, is always a factor that creates new wars,” she told Mr. Henderson. Faced with an apology from a German woman whose husband was executed after a failed attempt to overthrow Hitler, she found the strength to let go of the hatred.
Her journey to forgiveness set an example for many people, including Eritrean author Abeba Tesfagiorgis.
Accused of participating in the underground resistance to Ethiopian occupiers in her country, she was imprisoned and even faced a firing squad. Mrs. Laure’s story helped her to forgive and when she told it to other prisoners, they were able to release hatred for their enemies.
“Just as Irene Laure could not hope to see a united and peaceful Europe without Germany, we could not say we love our country and then refuse to understand and forgive our fellow Eritreans,” she said in Mr. Henderson’s latest book. Eritrea and Ethiopia, engaged in a fierce border dispute since May 1998, are negotiating for peace.
Forgiveness within America’s borders has also become an issue as Mr. Clinton has been pressured to formally apologize to blacks for slavery. To date, he has not done so.
“My belief is that we need to start with ourselves and our own nation, rather than pointing the finger of blame,” Mr. Henderson said. “Neither forgiveness nor its inverse, repentance, will alone solve the world’s problems or bring peace.
“My hope in writing this book is that those who hesitate may be encouraged by the example of forgiveness in its stories.”

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