October 3rd, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #622 'Sorry seems to be…'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama called the president of Guatemala this past week to say we’re sorry. Maybe I should send him a letter, too…

Dear Mr. President,

There are things that I really can’t fathom, and this whole business of our government willingly infecting people in Guatemala with sexually transmitted diseases in the 1940s is one of them. When I saw the headlines about us apologizing for that, I thought “Oh yes, that should do the trick. Sure, we gave your people syphilis. Our bad!”

Related: US apologizes for infecting Guatemalans with STDs in the 1940s

The fact that it was for research into how well penicillin would work doesn’t make it any better in my book. Seriously, we couldn’t find enough people already infected? I can’t help but feel like we weren’t looking very hard.

I’m usually very hesitant to judge the people of the past too harshly, because I know the world they inhabited was different than ours today. With all the medicines we now have, it’s a little too easy to forget that simple infections were death sentences for many folks. But this seems more like one of those cases where we just took the easy and morally reprehensible way out.

I suppose it bothers me a lot more because it was so recent. When people get all lathered up over something 300, 500, or 1000 years ago, I find myself saying the fog of history really does make it a perilous endeavor to pass fair judgment from afar. But for crying out loud, this is well within the remembered lifetimes of many citizens both here and there. And heaven knows Guatemala has dealt with enough problems over the decades without us stopping by to make them worse.

A lot of countries (heck a lot of people, too) hesitate to apologize for mistakes because they think it makes them look weak. I disagree. You can’t go around wringing your hands and saying “I’m sorry,” over everything, but in cases like this it is the right thing to do. And when great nations admit their failings openly and make amends, I think it makes them stronger.

I hope your Sunday is going very well. Might take a long bike ride this afternoon.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Karen Tan

    Good one, Tom! This is the true spirit of being an American.

    October 4, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  2. dan ace

    I do not know Rahm Emanuel personally, but I can only guess that he has done all he can to support the president in a short time and is moving on to continue supporting the United States in any and every which way or place he can. Good Luck! Rahm....

    October 3, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  3. Lori, CA

    Hi Tom. It is unbelievable and very embarrassing. What were they thinking? How did they get decision-making power? This is what they spent our money on? Geeze.

    October 3, 2010 at 7:43 pm |