Tom Foreman | BIO
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.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with