Obama gave his long-awaited speech in Hiroshima yesterday. No, he did not apologize for Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. In many ways, what he says was actually worse.
Most of the speech was vapid banalities. War is bad. (Who knew?) War has been part of the human condition since the beginning of recorded history. (Really?)
Most of the rest was moral preening and the uttering of grandiose but completely empty and unrealistic solutions to the scourge of nuclear weapons. According to Obama, nothing short of a “moral revolution” is required.
What, pray tell, in the vast sweep of human history gives the faintest hope that such a “moral revolution” is remotely possible? Perhaps Obama has enlisted the help of invisible magic unicorns. Or angels.
Indeed, given Obama’s track record with gaseous speeches such as these, you might want to become a prepper, rent a backhoe, and start building your bomb shelter. For instance, Obama’s searching criticism of the history of the relationship between the West and the Muslim world, an his soaring call in his Cairo speech for a fundamental transformation–a revolution, if you will–in that relationship ushered in a period of even greater violence in the Muslim world, and a serious decline in the relationship between Islam and the West.
The Middle Eastern dystopia that slouched in the wake of Obama’s Cairo speech makes me shudder for what will follow in the aftermath of this one. Reading Obama’s Hiroshima speech in light of the dismal aftermath of his Cairo vaporings should lead the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to move the Doomsday Clock to within a few seconds of midnight.
As for why Obama’s speech was in some ways worse than an outright apology, it was an exercise in moral equivalence that did not distinguish between the combatants in WWII, but lumped them into one mass engaged in a conflict that was undistinguishable from the conflicts that mankind has waged since pre-historical times:
The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war 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.
In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us. Shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death. There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war, memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism, graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity.
The difference between WWII, and the War of Austrian Succession, say, let alone some unrecorded tribal conflict, is blindingly obvious, and that difference matters. Why people were “shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death” matters. And the responsibility matters, and it is indisputable that the responsibility for this ghastly record is by no means equally shared: it rests disproportionately on Germany and yes, Japan. To ignore these fundamental facts is unpardonable. To do so in the context of a speech at Hiroshima insinuates that the act that ended one part of the war was morally indistinguishable from the events that led up to it, and therefore obscures any moral line between those who initiated the conflict and carried it out with horrific brutality, and those who ended it.
Then there is this wretched paragraph:
The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.
This suggests in a very Hegelian/progressive way that the dropping of the atomic bomb was the result of some some inexorable technological process that had slipped human control. It is a statement about a historical process that is utterly ahistorical–more of Obama’s trademark historicism, in other words. It does not put the decision in the very specific historical context of the time. It suggests that the decision to drop the bomb was worse than the alternatives, but does so in a cowardly way because it does not address those alternatives and argue that they were better than dropping the bomb.
It also suggests that the man who made the decision was morally defective, and in need of some moral reformation. This is utterly unfair. Truman had a wrenching choice to make. A decent successor to his office would recognize that, and give it proper deference. But Obama did not do this, and instead continued his tiresome role as a moral titan instructing lesser beings. All in all, an utterly appalling performance, but a totally unsurprising one.
Obama’s amnesia is, unfortunately, widely shared. American attitudes about Hiroshima and Nagasaki have changed dramatically since the war, and no doubt Obama’s implicit condemnation will be viewed favorably by large numbers of Americans, perhaps a majority. In some respects, this reflects the fact that in the experience of most Americans, the Japanese are a peaceful, quiet, diligent and inoffensive people: few are familiar with the bestiality of Japanese conduct from 1931 through August, 1945. Therefore, it is hard for many to comprehend how something as horrific as Hiroshima and Nagasaki could possibly be justified.
But to do this is to totally misunderstand the basic fact that modern Japan and modern Japanese are pacific, benign and enlightened precisely because of the bomb. Only the utter destruction of a militarist society that was enthusiastically supported by the vast bulk of the citizenry, and which spawned untold miseries across Asia, could have turned the Japanese into a pacific people. Nothing short of the bomb (or an invasion that would have led to more destruction and more death) would have scared the Japanese straight.
Although Obama did not apologize, many other commentators have used the occasion of Obama’s speech to regurgitate their condemnation of the dropping of the bomb and to suggest that an apology is the least that the US owes the Japanese, and the world. It would take me seventy years to go through the verbal sludge that has oozed forth in the last seven days, so I will limit myself to a brief discussion of the worst.
This piece was written by one Jeffrey Lewis, who styles himself in his Twitter bio as “one of the pointier heads in all of nuclear wonkdom.” It would be more accurate to say “one of the emptier heads in all of nuclear wonkdom.” Or at least I hope to God that’s the case, because we’re doomed if he isn’t. For Mr. Pointy Head wrote one of the most cosmically stupid lines I have read in my life:
The historical debate in the United States over Hiroshima, as best I can tell, began as a debate over responsibility for the Cold War.
It is the case that this has been a debate in the fever swamps of the left, who are sure that Truman dropped the bomb as the opening salvo of the Cold War, and that Stalin was the real target. But in the saner precincts of the United States (and even in those very rare academic precincts that can be considered sane) the historical debate began, and continues, as a debate over whether dropping the bomb was the best way to end WWII in the Pacific. The key issues in the debate were from the beginning and remain things like: Would moving away from unconditional surrender have led to an end of the war? How many casualties would the Allies have suffered if they had invaded? How many casualties would the Japanese have suffered if the Allies had invaded? How many Japanese would have died if the US had attempted to continue to firebomb and starve Japan into submission, instead of dropping the bomb? Would dropping the bomb on an uninhabited location, with Japanese witnesses, have convinced the Japanese to surrender?
But if you read Lewis’s piece, you’ll note that something is missing: World War Two! How anyone can discuss the dropping of the bomb and ignore altogether the Solomons, New Guinea, the Philippines (especially Manila), Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Kamikazes, Operations Downfall, Coronet and Olympic, western POWs, huge populations under brutal Japanese control in China and elsewhere in Asia, etc., etc., etc., boggles the mind. But no. In Lewis’s mind it’s all about the Cold War.
The closest that Lewis comes to recognizing the reality of the grim choice facing Truman is this smart-assed line: “And that’s why your granddad didn’t die on some god-forsaken beach code-named after a car.” Would that Paul Fussell or Eugene Sledge or other less literary veterans who were spared unspeakable horrors by the bomb were alive to put this little puke in his place.
Lewis is a product of the same leftist miasma that produced Barack Obama. I have little doubt that his views resonate with Obama, and that the President primarily chooses not to express such views as forthrightly as Lewis does out of political expediency, rather than out of conviction. But in truth, Obama said much the same in his remarks in Hiroshima. By orating about Hiroshima in soaring moral terms completely untethered to the horrific choices facing Harry Truman and the American military leadership, Obama slanders them and does a grave disservice to the truth.