Opinion: Forgiving our enemies is our past. And it should be our future

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron meet at the Pharo Palace in Marseille, southern France, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Marseille for talks on European issues such as migration and eurozone reform. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, Pool)

When I was in France this summer an interesting line of dialogue came up between my friends and the Airbnb host whose apartment we were staying at. I can’t remember exactly how the topic got brought up, but we started talking about France’s relationship with Germany in modern times. We knew that nowadays the two countries were pretty close allies. However, considering this relationship in the context of Germany’s subjugation of France under 80 years ago makes it pretty remarkable. How could one country be so closely allied with another that committed horrible atrocities against it?

The answer, no matter how corny or cliché it may sound, is that France learned to forgive. Our host recounted that although the years after the war were filled with mistrust on both sides, the countries were eventually able to reconcile. After Germans saw what their country had done, many were genuinely remorseful. They wanted to move on from that period of history, going so far as to eventually ban Nazi symbols. France, along with other countries in Europe, understood the genuine shame that Germans felt. Because they were willing to forgive, former enemies in Europe have some of the closest alliances in the world.

This is not the only time this has happened. Consider the relationship between the United States and Great Britain. We went to war twice. They burned down the White House. And after all that we became strong allies in the early 20th century and have remained so ever since. The common culture and values we shared certainly helped repair relations, but it’s still impressive to think we could eventually be friendly to a nation that caused us so much harm.

In the modern day, there are many countries that we regard as enemies. Russia, Iran, North Korea and more are all to one degree or another adversaries of the United States for a variety of reasons. I’m not saying that we should immediately treat them like our best friends and think they will not attempt any aggressive actions against the U.S. and our currents.

However our mindset and policies need to be aimed at the eventuality of peace. If we want to normalize relations with countries such as Iran then actions like the Muslim Ban do nothing to help us. Electing those who peddle in Islamophobia and breed distrust in others just because of where they come from or what they look like won’t help us either. We have to remember that although we may disagree with the government of a country, its citizens should have our compassion.

If we want peace, maybe even world peace, then we need to prove to people everywhere that we are worth putting trust in. When we commit to aiding those who suffer or prove that we judge people on the merits of their character and not their religion or skin color, we signal that the values we hold and the institutions that support them are decent and right. But when we engage in atrocities like supporting a coalition that kills civilians or perpetuating war in regions of the world already suffering greatly, we only give credence to the idea that America is an evil entity.

We must anticipate peace if we ever want to reach it. If we always expect we will be at war with a country then we will end up fulfilling our own prophecy. But I refuse to believe that we will always be fighting. That we are destined to be at war for all time. We can change. It starts by simply being kind. By setting an example that the world can follow in all that we do. By rejecting bigotry and hate in whatever form it takes. And by seeing our adversaries as human beings rather than a faceless and nameless enemy. If we do this then one day we may have peace. If not, there is no telling how the future will turn out.


Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.