On Friday, Obama will make history by being the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, the site of one of the only two nuclear bombs ever used in a war. This move, long debated within the White House, has raised the question of whether the president will issue an apology for America’s wartime actions during his visit. He’s said he won’t.
Regardless, one thing is for sure: Obama has shown that he, unlike President Truman, wouldn’t be able to make the difficult decisions that are required in a time of war. And he certainly wouldn’t have been able to drop the bomb.
The White House is insisting that Obama’s trip isn’t meant as an apology, but it’s easy to see why it might be interpreted that way. The fact that he’s making sure to visit Hiroshima before the end of his term sends a strong message, given that no sitting president has ever done so. Taken together with his penchant for going on global apology tours, his visit at least hints toward American culpability.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the visit is meant to be a “forward-looking signal” of a world without nuclear weapons. This is ironic, given that Obama brokered a nuclear deal with Iran that seems certain to ensure that the Islamic Republic becomes a nuclear power, possibly sparking an arms race in the Middle East. But Obama rarely sees the inconsistencies between the policies he adopts and the symbolic actions he takes.
What Led Us to The Bomb
Regardless, if Obama wants his visit to symbolize moving forward to a nuclear-free age, it begs asking whether he would have been prepared to do what was necessary to end World War II, and what he thinks about doing it again if it becomes necessary. This requires looking at how we got to the point of using the atomic bomb in 1945, and what that terrible responsibility has demanded of our leaders ever since.
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrific events in the context of a massive world war. Between 129,000 and 226,000 people died, and many more were injured and poisoned from radiation. Everyone should pray that it never happens again, anywhere. But just because we can recognize that something is ghastly and hope it isn’t repeated, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary—or that it might not be necessary again in the future.
When America decided to drop nuclear bombs on Japan, Germany had already capitulated. But the island nation was still fighting tooth and nail, ignoring calls from the allied nations for unconditional surrender. But surrendering would have gone against the Empire of Japan’s entire philosophy, which taught that surrender is shameful, even worse than death. Japanese soldiers, fueled by Bushido ethics, often opted to sacrifice themselves in kamikaze attacks or blow themselves up rather than be captured by American soldiers. Civilians, too, would throw…