President Barack Obama told the world on Friday in Hiroshima that the American decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan in 1945 arose from humanity’s worst instincts, including “nationalist fervor or religious zeal.”
The war that ended in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he said, “grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.”
The speech — delivered on the eve of Memorial Day weekend — was billed by the White House as anything but an apology, but Obama’s words betrayed his true sentiments.
Obama, a native of Honolulu who grew up near Pearl Harbor, said nothing about the fact that Japan started the war; nothing about the fact that the Japanese were responsible for the slaughter of millions of civilians throughout Asia and the Pacific; nothing about the fact that the Japanese refused to surrender after hundreds of thousands had already been killed in conventional bombing.
Obama implied that Americans had not yet considered the human cost of the atomic bomb: we had to “force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell” and “force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see,” he said.
He described the moral dilemmas of nuclear warfare as if no president, and no American, had considered them before. But he left out the moral case for ending the war, and the hundreds of thousands of deaths avoided because of Hiroshima.
The contrast to President Harry S. Truman could not have been clearer.
Reflecting on the decision to bomb Japan years later, Truman declared: “That bomb caused the Japanese to surrender, and it stopped the war. I don’t care what the crybabies say now, because they didn’t have to make the decision.”
As he has done before, Obama cast a moral equivalence between different civilizations, implying that Americans were just as bad as the Imperial Japanese, or anyone else.
But he went further, casting doubt on the American effort in World War II itself: “Nations arise telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats. But those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.”
There is really only one response to Obama’s gesture, and it goes beyond media disputation and moral condemnation.
It must be made clear that at Hiroshima, Obama represented no one but himself — not the Greatest Generation who fought the war, and not the generations of Americans who have grown up enjoying the freedom that victory over Japan secured.
The U.S. Congress declared war on Japan the day after Pearl Harbor. Millions of Americans fought to save the country, and civilization. Hundreds of thousands died, often in brutal hand-to-hand combat against a fanatically determined Japanese enemy.
It is the inescapable duty of the Congress of the United States today to censure President Barack Obama for casting doubt on the sacrifices and motivations of the Americans who fought the Second World War — on the eve of Memorial Day, no less.