When John Kerry toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum this week before meeting foreign ministers at the G-7 Summit, Reuters reports that he had witnessed “haunting displays [of] photographs of badly burned victims, the tattered and stained clothes they wore and statues depicting them with flesh melting from their limbs.”
“It is a stunning display. It is a gut-wrenching display,” explained Kerry. “It is a reminder of the depth of the obligation every one of us in public life carries … to create and pursue a world free from nuclear weapons.”
Iran exempted, of course.
But, really, is this the lesson of Hiroshima? That those in public life have an obligation to do away with nuclear weapons? A lot of people might argue that existence of those weapons have saved lives from broader world conflicts and conventional warfare. That includes ending the Second World War sooner.
Yesterday, The Washington Post dutifully reported that, “In Hiroshima, Kerry won’t apologize for atomic bombs dropped on Japan.” Technically, he didn’t. What we witnessed was one of the administration’s inverted non-apology apologies.
Barack Obama will also travel to Japan next month for the G-7. There’s a lot of speculation he will visit Hiroshima and offer some sort of apology. (If we’re to believe WikiLeaks, U.S. officials have been toying with the idea of having Obama say sorry for Hiroshima for a while now. And it comports well with his history.)
It would not be a great leap for Obama. Having a high-ranking American official visit the museum already lends credence to the Japanese notion that the U.S. bombing was gratuitous. On top of this, Kerry blames “nuclear weapons” — rather than Japan’s fanaticism and nihilism — for Hiroshima. So we’re on our way.
If the Obama administration is intent on historical score-keeping there’s plenty to talk about. Japan aligned itself with one of the great murderers of the 20th century (though it needed no help initiating genocide) and launched numerous invasions and a war that cost the U.S. hundreds of thousands of lives and billions in treasure, both fighting Japan and helping it create a stable, liberal state after the war.
It’s not like the Japanese have ever truly apologized for the butchery, mass rape, destruction, and aggression that made Hiroshima a reality. Has any Japanese foreign or prime minister strolled through the gut-wrenching exhibit about the Nanking massacre? The first time any Japanese official apologized for the Bataan Death March was 2009 — and then only an ambassador.
Of course, revisiting Japan’s 70-year-old offenses at a G-7 Summit would be ridiculous and counterproductive. As is the compunction of Obama’s officials to “acknowledge” or apologize for the alleged sins and moral deficiencies of the U.S. every time they get on an international flight — a grating habit since 2009.
After all, Kerry could have said that Hiroshima was “a reminder of the depth of the obligation every one of us in public life carries to stop extremist regimes like Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Or he might have said Hiroshima was “a reminder of the depth of the obligation every one of us in public life carries to ensure that we are well prepared for the next force that threatens peace.”
Instead our motto the past eight years has been, “Strength Through Moral Equivalence.”
In Strasbourg, France, President Obama, who would later fail to show up in Paris with the rest of the free world’s leaders to make a statement about Islamism, said, “there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” towards Europe. This same president pays respect to the contemptible Saudi Arabian monarch while being dismissive — even derisive — of the only liberal nation in the Middle East, talks to the Muslim world about American colonialism as if it were a real thing.
American officials can acknowledge the catastrophe of war and the destructive capability of nuclear weapons — even in the context of World War II warfare, the instantaneous carnage of the atom bomb was especially horrifying — without visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or apologizing. Surely those in the fire-bombings of Dresden (or even Tokyo, for that matter) saw thousands of badly burned victims, in tattered clothes with skin melting from their limbs. It’s going to be a long apology tour if we take this route.
Now, it’s a shame evil regimes start world wars that other nations are forced to win. But without the use of atomic weapons, World War II would likely have been prolonged. I realize historians debate how many Americans would have been saved, but at the very least, Truman’s intention was not to murder civilians indiscriminately, but to end the war in the Pacific.
Most reasonable people, even those who believe a war is wrong, mishandled, or fought poorly, can probably concede that since the start of the 20th century, the U.S. does not enter into conflict with an intent to steal oil or exact revenge on civilians or to drop atom bombs for kicks. We’re far more inclined to fight wars to try to create democracies or spread freedom — however misguided and botched those efforts are sometimes. And post-war Japan is proof that Americans, unlike most other places around the world, don’t really hold grudges. So, though we are imperfect, we are not equally culpable. Not even close.