Between apology and account

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Between apology and account

 Ruling Democratic Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and his rival Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party apologize for suspicions over a son’s illegal gambling and a wife’s wrong accreditations, respectively, last week. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Ruling Democratic Party presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung and his rival Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party apologize for suspicions over a son’s illegal gambling and a wife’s wrong accreditations, respectively, last week. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

KIM HYUN-YE
The author is the head of the Parents Team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“The American people are sorry — for the loss, for the years of hurt. You did nothing wrong, but you were grievously wronged. I apologize and I am sorry that this apology has been so long in coming.”

In May 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton apologized for study conducted in Tuskegee, Alabama, on African Americans with syphilis. Without informing the condition to the patients, the U.S. government conducted the study for 40 years. A whistleblower exposed the case, but the government did not apologize. Clinton apologized formally on behalf of the U.S. government to the victims and their families.

Ahead of the March 9 presidential election in Korea, apologies are pouring out. Opposition People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol said, “Aside from the military coup and the May 18 Gwangju massacre, many people say President Chun Doo Hwan did well in politics.” Then Yoon posted an apology with a picture online of an apple given to his pet dog. (Apple and apology are pronounced the same in Korean.) On Nov. 22, his rival Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) apologized for past wrongdoings by himself and his family. “I once again apologize for not being able to take responsibility with more sensitivity in a timely manner on the pains people suffered.” Two days later, he apologized again over his defense for his nephew’s murder case. He said, “I had to defend my cousin who committed a felony of dating violence, as his family couldn’t afford a lawyer.” On Dec. 2, he once again apologized for the Cho Kuk scandal. “The former justice minister was one of the reasons the DP has been criticized by the people,” he said.

Things were quiet for a while. But then Yoon apologized again over his wife Kim Kun-hee’s falsified résumé. Following Kim’s statement on Dec. 15 — “I apologize for the inconvenience and fatigue that people may feel regardless of the factual relations”— Yoon said, “It is right for me to feel sorry if she had behaved poorly in the past.”

I am skeptical. Their apologies lack sincerity. It’s different from how Clinton admitted faults and sincerely apologized. In “Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology,” American linguist Edwin Battistella wrote, “What accounts and apologies have in common is that both use language to change the meaning of an offensive act. An apology blames and disavows a past self while an account denies the actor’s guilt in the offense.” Some food for thought for the two presidential candidates.


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