When Reparations are appropriate
To those who have ever read a history book or the bros whose only knowledge of the outside world comes from the latest Call of Duty to be released to the world at large, mankind has left an ocean of blood on the long and winding road that is our history as a species. From Roman adventures in Africa to cold war machinations in the Middle East by the U.S.S.R. and America, some innocent people are always getting hurt for one reason or another that is not always clear.
Usually, it isn’t until long after the carnage has ended that those caught up in it are able to press their claims for justice. Historically, one thing that victims of injustice the world over have demanded is reparations, some sort of monetary or otherwise crafted compensation to be doled out to those whose lives were uprooted and dramatically altered by forces beyond their control.
Recently, Indian Member of Parliament and former Colbert Report guest Shashi Tharoor has argued that Britain should pay reparations to India for its two centuries of colonial rule.
In a recent debate at the Oxford Union, Mr. Tharoor said that Britain needs to pay a “moral debt” for its rise that was financed by “depredations in India”. His words went viral and triggered a nationwide response in the nation, even receiving praise from Indian Prime Minister Modi. Though Mr. Tharoor has the right to argue for his point of view, he is utterly wrong here.
The problem with reparations on a mass scale like this is identifying victims of said bad policy. Yes, Britain may have done terrible things in India, but how does one determine who is still alive and suffering as a direct result of that horrendous colonial rule? It’s a difficult and tough thing.
In my own view, lump sums should not be paid out to an entire nation for past historical grievances done to it by another. You’ll have problems with distribution; identifying victims and ensuring that said money is sufficient enough to make up for the previous bad course of action.
Now, if there are people who are still alive and can prove they were victimized, that’s a different story. Yes, it’s absurd to want to right wrongs from over a hundred years ago, but it is more than appropriate to help those who were victimized by the government in the last 50 or 60 years. In fact, that very course of action was done in the United States in the later part of the 1980’s.
Say what you will about George H.W. Bush, but I have a tremendous respect for the man owning up to past U.S. Government discrimination of Japanese Americans during his one term in office. He issued a formal letter of apology and ensured that funds were available to make up for confiscating property and businesses from Americans who happened to be of a different ethnicity during a time of war in the 1940’s. A bold and principled stand that 43’ could’ve learned from.
Bottom line is this my friends, our world is a deeply messed up place. Instead of wasting time musing on and re-litigating past controversies where no victims still walk the earth, we should be focusing on righting wrongs where those who were hurt are still alive. That’s the right course. Mr. Tharoor, Britain doesn’t need to give India money, at least not for anything over 100 years.