Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The New Apology

Well, well. So Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the man in charge of the Afghanistan War (at 8 1/2 years and counting, it's like the "Cats" of American military adventures), has been called back to Washington following news that McChrystal bad-mouthed the White House, his commander in chief, and American diplomacy in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

No doubt apologies will be demanded and apologies offered.

But apologia is tricky stuff. For a couple of millennia, the apology was understood to be an expression of regret for wrongdoing, although it could also be a defense of one's actions by way of explanation (on the latter, check your Socrates, or your Gen. George S. Patton).

In modern public discourse, though, a third sense of apology is sucking all the rhetorical oxygen away from the original two.

The New Apology doesn't mean "I regret my action and the harm it's caused others."

It doesn't mean "I undertake never to do that again."

And it absolutely doesn't mean "I was wrong."

To the extent that it actually means anything, the New Apology can mean:

"I'm sorry -- that you didn't like it when you found out I disrespected you, which I didn't think you would."


"I'm sorry -- that you're choosing to make a BFD out of this instead of giving me another free pass."


"I'm sorry -- that some reporter was so unprofessional as to quote my remarks accurately, completely, and in context."


"I'm sorry -- that now I'll have to spend time publicly humbling myself so that I'll be allowed to continue privately abasing those who deserve my loyalty and respect."


"I'm sorry -- that I'll have to start covering my tracks more carefully in the future when I engage in double-dealing or back-stabbing."

Calling what McChrystal is undoubtedly going to say next "an apology" as we normally use that word is like saying that "The Biggest Loser" is about "reality." Or that "Canadian bacon" is either "Canadian" or "bacon." It really says more about how careless we are with our language than it does about McChrystal's motives.

Let's face it: The Afghanistan War isn't getting anywhere, which means that McCrystal, for all his preening and posturing --

"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says.

He pauses a beat.

"Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."

With that, he's out the door.

-- is hardly the indispensable man. Why waste time on the New Apology kabuki?

Let's just skip that step entirely. Forget about any apology, Old or New. Sack him, let him collect his pension while he goes to work for a defense contractor, watch as his inevitable "Screw me? Screw you!" payback memoir gets remaindered within six months, and let's all move on.

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