Letter: Actions matter, not words

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The Independent Online
IT IS very difficult to determine the responsibilities living people have for their ancestors' actions ("Sorry is not enough", 18 July). So much depends upon how those actions affect people today. Is there always a need to apologise for ancestral wrongdoing when the victim's family, race or nation has long since recovered?

My family tree goes back to some individuals who were grossly mistreated. Their fate was dreadful and undeserved, yet the nation responsible shows no trace of this mentality today. I live a life of what we consider freedom in a society that accepts me. If a government official contacted me to apologise for what was done to my ancestors 200 years ago, I would feel we were stating the obvious and wasting each other's time. For me, to know that the attitudes no longer exist counts for more than a token government apology.

I am not swayed either way by Tony Blair formally apologising for a historical incident unless the victims feel the original attitudes still remain or unless the apology is followed by active and well-deserved measures to compensate sufferers. If people still suffer because of past events, the duty to help extends beyond the original perpetrators' group to all of us. Do we need an ancient scapegoat?

JOHN HEDLEY

London N8

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