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Patriotism Means Having To Say You’re Sorry

Patriotism Means Occasionally Having To Say You’re Sorry

by Mark W. Anderson
November 23, 2004

So what’s so wrong about saying you’re sorry?

Apparently, quite a lot, if the response to a popular new web site called Sorry Everybody ( is any indication. Created to let those who are dismayed by the re-election of George W. Bush let the world know how they feel, the site features page after page of photos of voters, presumably liberals, progressives and Democrats, holding handmade signs apologizing to the rest of the world for their inability to vote their nemesis out of office.

The huge success of Sorry Everybody—the site has more than 5,000 photos and keeps adding more by the day—has, somewhat predictably, touched off an online war. On the one side is Sorry Everybody and a sister site of sorts, Apologies Accepted, which bills itself as “the world's answer to” complete with photos of sympathetic folks from other lands offering encouragement and gratitude for the original effort. On the other is a series of sites featuring Bush supporters pointedly not feeling the need to apologize to anyone. And, for good measure, often throwing in an insult or two for those who do.

Which just goes to show: some people will be frightened by anything.

Offering messages such as “Sorry world, we tried—signed: one half of America” and “49% of us didn’t vote for him,” the photos on Sorry Everybody demonstrate not only humor and creativity, but also communicate a deeply felt sense of sadness and regret over being on the losing side of the last election.

Sprinkled in among the photos are responses from like-minded souls throughout the world who write back to say they understand, accept the apologies and offer encouragement for 2008. And, in some cases, room on their couch if their American friends ever want to stop by.

The site is the brainchild of James Zetlen, a 20-year-old neuroscience student at the University of Southern California who, along with a group he describes as a “network of irate nerds nationwide,” started the site the day after the last election.

“It started as one of those sly Internet jokes,” he said. “And it started in part because I was sorry I wasn’t enough of an activist (in the weeks leading up to the election). The point more than anything else is to try to support civil discourse between countries, between America and the rest of the world. It’s particularly gratifying to see the kind of response it’s gotten.”

Naturally, the idea that anyone in America might feel the need to apologize to foreigners is enough to cause some Bush supporters and other conservatives to see red. Much of the presidential campaign between the Republican Bush and Democrat John F, Kerry, you’ll remember, centered on whether or not Kerry was too much of an internationalist, and whether he was weak on defense.

So, naturally, Zetlen and his friends have received the expected amount of hate mail, and a host of opposing sites have sprung up sporting such names as We’re Not Sorry, You’re Welcome Everybody, Sorry Everybody My Ass and Kiss My American Ass. Copying much of the look and feel of the original, many of these sites feature photos of presumably red-blooded Americas holding signs saying they’re not sorry, posing with guns, insulting liberals and tossing off foreigners, particularly the French, to boot.

“I’m not sorry that you elitists lost the election—Go Bush!” says the sign of one young man on, photographed in what looks to be a bedroom in his mother’s house. “To the leftist traitors: We’re not sorry and fuck you,” says the sign of another young man with a backward baseball cap on and a small hoop earring on the same site. “All gay freaks that wish to marry take note: Not here ya queer,” goes a third hand-scribbled sign, held up by a gentleman proudly sporting a National Rifle Association pin. And so on.

Many disinterested observers—and more than a few journalists looking for one more wacky election-related story—might be tempted to write this little Internet battle off as nothing more than one more sign of a hopelessly divided nation.

But there’s more to it than that, actually. Zetlen and his friends have stumbled onto something that gets to the core of what it means for many of us to be an American, particularly in the post-9/11 world: terror at our own weakness.

That’s what much of the election was about, after all—questions over whether we were going to allow even the slightest bit of self-doubt creep into our national self-image, a stance popularized by the victorious president who, famously, couldn’t think of a single mistake he made when offered the opportunity to do so.

In the wake of 9/11, America’s militaristic and aggressive response to the world, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, has caused many Americans to take fright more at the enemy within than without. For some of us, it’s those who would answer every challenge with a gun, every slight with a guided missile , and every imagined terror with a threat to invade who are the ones we should be frightened of.

For others, the scary ones are those of us who are willing to recognize the role this country plays in the security of the world, and want to reach out to like-minded people around the globe to show them Americans are more than the jingoistic, reckless and blood-thirsty cowboys many of them think we are.

Unfortunately, some Americans simply can’t stand that. And for that, they’re the ones who should be truly sorry.


Mark W. Anderson is an independent journalist and writer based in Chicago. Visit him at

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