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We all seem to want Japan to apologise for war crimes, but why is it only Japan that is expected to feel sorry for anything? Has Britain nothing to apologise for? Shouldn’t Britain feel sorry for occupying so much of the East in the first place? We didn’t go into Burma, for instance, at the invitation of the Burmese - we fought and shot and killed our way in there. But did we ever say sorry to the people of Burma?

Did we ever say sorry to the Irish for what Cromwell (and a lot of others after him) di ?
No, of course we didn’t. And if we did, we wouldn’t mean it. Like children, we say sorry with our fingers crossed behind our backs. What we are saying and what we are thinking are two different things.

So, in order to defuse the blame a bit, I have tabulated a brief round-the-world summary of what we would like a few countries to apologise for, and what those countries would REALLY like to apologise for.

We would like the Japanese to say they are sorry for the cruelty practised on prisoners of war in World War II.

The Japanese would like to say that what they are really sorry about is that they did not win World War II, still, the way Japanese history is being rewritten in Japanese schools, it is going to look pretty soon as if they DID win World War II, which they really did actually, if only on an economic level, sorry about that...

We would like the French to say sorry for being so arrogant and refusing to understand us even when we try to speak French.

The French would like to say how sorry they are that French, which is an infinitely superior language to English and used to be the universal language of diplomats and gentlemen, has been replaced by the clumsy Anglo-Saxon tongue which, by sheer accident, has been adopted by the barbaric Americans who can never think of any good film ideas of their own but are always remaking French films very badly, “ah, ces cretins americains...”

We would like the Germans to apologise for making up for a couple of World War defeats by always sneaking lucky victories against the English in football.

The Germans would like to apologise for nothing.

We would like the Americans to apologise for inflicting McDonalds on the rest of the world, or, failing that, at least to apologise for Disney turning so many good European stories (Pinocchio, Hercules, etc) into the same American junk culture, or, at the very least, for sending all the worst aspects of American culture abroad, and keeping all the very best at home.

The Americans would like to apologise for having rescued Europe in two World Wars and gotten nothing but ingratitude in return, and they won’t be making that mistake again.

We would like the Australians to apologise for being too good at cricket and rugby.

The Australians would like to apologise for thinking that Terry Venables could get them into the football World Cup finals.

We would like the Russians to apologise for making a hash of Communism.

The Russians would like to apologise for having failed to realise, during fifty years of Communism, that Mafia methods represented the true way forward all along.

We would like the Swedes to apologise for Abba.

The Swedes would like to apologise for Abba.

We would like the Israelis to apologise for going on and on about the Holocaust while hypocritically treating the Palestinians as an inferior race whose land they can steal at will.

The Israelis would like to apologise for pretending to be in Europe and stealing the Eurovision Song Contest as well, and they’re welcome.

We would like the Norwegians to apologise for being boring.

The Norwegians would like to apologise for getting to the South Pole first.

We would like the Chinese to apologise for there being so many of them.

The Chinese would like to apologise for many things, but not while anyone from the West is listening.

We would like the Belgians to apologise for there not being six famous Belgians.

The Belgians would like to say, “Not six famous Belgians? We are very sorry, but haven’t you heard of Rene Magritte? Georges Simenon? Django Reinhardt? Adolphe Saxe? Eddie Merckx ? And, um, let’s think - ah, Jacques Brel! Phew! Glad you didn’t want seven famous Belgians...”

Etc etc…

Full list of global apologies on request. Just send blank cheque.

The Independent Thursday May 28 1998