Saturday, March 3, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, March 3, 2001

One man finally did right thing

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Cmdr. Scott Waddle finally did what all the president’s men and the rest of the government machinery couldn’t. He got it right with the Japanese.

In an enormous act of courage, Waddle walked into the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu this week and apologized. Most of us will never have to face a moment like that. We’ll probably never even fathom the fortitude it takes do something like that. We tell our kids they must apologize when they make a mistake, but we’ll never know if we have what it takes to do it ourselves when the stakes are this high.

For nearly three weeks now, ever since the submarine Waddle commanded — the Greeneville — collided with a Japanese fishing vessel and nine people died, there have been calls for the United States to do the right thing.

For the most part, we did.

We’ve searched tirelessly for survivors and answers. We’ve provided as much help as possible for victims and their families. We’re calling on all our technical resources to see if we can salvage the Ehime Maru and recover any bodies inside. From President Bush on down, there have been apologies and condolences. On Monday we’ll launch an extraordinary court of inquiry to learn what really happened.

And still, we were told, the Japanese were not satisfied. The rumblings of discontent came from the government, families, towns and schools personally touched by tragedy. We were told the issue could cause a political and military rift between the two countries.

In response to all that, more than once in the last two weeks, we’ve heard someone say, "We’re doing everything possible. What more do they expect?"

It turns out Waddle was the guy who understood what they expected most. He was born in Japan, spoke Japanese, and knew what the Japanese would require of him and the nation he represents. He realized, as so many of us in America still don’t, that not all the world runs on Western values. So Waddle, who faces the possibility of prison time for his role in the accident, went against the advice of his attorney and wrote 13 letters of apology, to the families of four teenage boys and five men killed and others personally affected by the accident.

No taking the Fifth Amendment. No hiding behind national security or naval secrecy. No obfuscation. Instead, Waddle stepped forward honorably and delivered his apologies.

By all accounts, this honest gesture has helped turn the tide against anger and recrimination. He stepped over legal barriers and across cultural differences to do the right thing. No matter what happens to Waddle now, we’ll have this to thank him for: The healing can finally begin.

Mike Leidemann’s columns appear Thursdays and Saturdays in The Advertiser.

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