6 years ago, on the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, I wrote:
No sitting Japanese prime minister has ever been to Pearl Harbor; and no sitting American president has ever been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Will President Obama be the first?
6 years later, we have our answer.
Tom Collina at Foreign Policy:
President Barack Obama will soon become the first sitting U.S. president to go to Hiroshima, the White House announced on Tuesday. Obama will go on May 27, just after the G-7 summit, to visit the historic city where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki. All told, more than 200,000 people perished, mostly civilians.
Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hiroshima on April 11, the first of his rank to do so, in part to test the waters for Obama. “Everyone in the world should see and feel the power of this memorial,” Kerry wrote in a guest book after touring the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
The president’s visit is almost as controversial as the bombing itself. Ten presidents before Obama have avoided a trip that raises uncomfortable questions. Was the U.S. action justified? Were there alternatives? Should the United States apologize?
One has to take into account the context of the times in which the decision was made.
Yes, the president should go. Not to look back, but to look forward to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again. “This isn’t about questioning America’s responsibility for using nuclear weapons,” Tomihisa Taue, the mayor of Nagasaki, recently said. “It’s important to think about how to rid nuclear weapons from the world.”
As Obama’s tenure comes to a close, this may be one of his last opportunities to deliver a major policy speech on nuclear weapons — one of his signature issues.
Reagan also had a desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons; but his approach was much different.
As Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security advisor, explained on Medium, the president’s trip “will reaffirm America’s longstanding commitment — and the President’s personal commitment — to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
As Lester Tenney wrote in the WSJ:
What Hiroshima represents is more than the effects of a nuclear weapon. It is the culmination of a war started by Imperial Japan and conducted with gross inhumanity, a war in which more civilians died than combatants.
It would be wrong for the president to pivot away from this history and use his visit solely to discuss aspirations for a world without nuclear weapons. Hiroshima highlights mankind’s tragic ability to wreak terrible destruction, and this destruction was not caused exclusively by atomic bombs. Sand-filled bamboo sticks, bayonets, plague-inflected fleas, starvation and rape—methods of warfare used by Japan—are also destructive.
Mr. Obama wants to use his visit to Hiroshima to highlight the perils of nuclear war. But this is not the only lesson. Our service as veterans of the Pacific War needs to be remembered and not abandoned to some tumid oratory. The president’s visit to Hiroshima will be hollow, a gesture without motion, if the Pacific War’s full history is not maintained. Hiroshima does not and cannot exist outside the context of the Asia-Pacific War and all its dead.
So what should the PotUS say, since he has gone there to speak? WaPo’s Adam Taylor seems to think America should apologize for a great many sins and offers up a short list.
What are your FA top 10 suggestions for President Obama to say to Japan and to the rest of the world?
10) “Let me be clear: War is hell. Get over it.”
9) “You’re welcome.”
8) “Got any pizza or sushi?”
7) “What’s up with those Japanese game shows?”
6) “The toilets here are an engineering marvel!”
5) “Trump, Hillary, or Bernie-san?”
4) “You people are kind of…you know…strange? But we love it!”
3) Yellow lives matter