Apologies and Apologetics: Pete Seeger Absolves Himself

banjopicker as questing romantic

And regarding William F. Buckley’s fake apologies for 1950’s racism, why do we want people to apologize? Apologies, when made on demand, are always slippery. Buckley, unlike his followers, never really cast his slippery comments as an apology anyway.

Here’s a defensive, self-admiring, blame-shifting discourse from Pete Seeger, whom I likened to Buckley in that Boston Review essay. Seeger starts off with a fake apology for his former Stalinism (it’s from his book Where Have All the Flowers Gone):

… I’ll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a “hard driver” and not a supremely cruel misleader. I guess anyone who calls himself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Moslems by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. could apologize for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks. Europeans could apologize for worldwide conquests, Mongolians for Genghis Kahn. And supporters of Roosevelt could apologize for his support of Somoza, of Southern white Democrats, of Franco Spain, for putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps. Who should my granddaughter Moraya apologize to? She’s part African, part European, part Chinese, part Japanese, part Native American.

Let’s look ahead.

To which Buckley, raising both eyebrows and flashing a shit-eating grin, might purr: “Ah. So you don’t apologize…”

3 thoughts on “Apologies and Apologetics: Pete Seeger Absolves Himself

  1. He has a point. Does everyone who believes in some “ism” have to apologize for the actions of every other believer? You could argue, only if that belief leads necessarily to that sort of misbehavior (or mass murder). Or you could be cynical and say, that’s what comes of believing in some idealistic movement.
    Buckley pointed out that Seeger went to Russia during those times and didn’t ask to see the political prisoners. Seeger conceded that point.

  2. “I’ll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a “hard driver” and not a supremely cruel misleader.” However self-serving the rest of the statement is, this IS an apology–so hypothetical Buckley would have been mistaken.

  3. It sure seems to me that Pete Seeger does indeed apologize for truly mistaken opinions that he HIMSELF had during Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union–and for which he was pilloried, in a country that prizes free speech. But in the rest of this excerpt, he suggests that there is a sort of statute of limitations for people who could not possibly have had any role in or influence on the events. I read Buckley’s comments on his change of heart concerning civil rights enforcement by the federal government in a similar plain language way. I am not convinced that massive deconstruction serves for anything other than to allow an interviewer to say “But, but . . . you once were a supporter of (fill in the blank).” People evolve in their thinking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s