As the news cycles come and go, the death of a beloved yet controversial sports hero and the next rhetorical exchange between presidential candidates obscures another sad chapter in Presidential history. Ten days ago President Obama returned from Hiroshima, the first sitting President in U.S history to do so. The fact that he has only once attended the D-Day memorial ceremonies on June 6th in Normandy is lost in the discussion. A text of the Hiroshima speech can be seen here:
As the president gave his speech our nation, especially surviving veterans of World War II, held their collective breath praying for a stay on another chapter in the Obama apology tour as he visited Hiroshima, one of only two places in history to experience an atomic attack. While the speech did not apologize directly, the entire tenor of the speech was apologetic and ridiculously idealistic. The opening salvo of the speech set the tone:
“Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”
“Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner.”
As we reviewed secondhand critiques of the speech and the actual speech itself, one issue becomes clear. Whoever wrote this, the President himself or a staff speech writer with his approval, concocted phrasing that represents an utter lack of understanding of the era and context of history that framed this event.
It is interesting to note at the top of the New York Times web page, the Asia and Pacific news section, is a link to an article entitled Mitsubishi Materials Apologizes to Chinese World War II Laborers. The article describes the Mitsubishi Corporation apologizing for enslaving 40,000 Chinese laborers during the war, shipping them to Japan to work in mines under inhumane conditions where over 20% died from neglect and brutal treatment. An interesting juxtaposition.
The fact is that America entered World War II to preserve the idea of our sovereignty and liberty. The idea of American liberty itself was under attack, and despotic forces roamed the globe. There was no American sneak attack on a sleeping navy at Pearl Harbor without any formal declaration of war. There was no American led Bataan Death March. There was no American torture or liquidation of prisoners across the entire Pacific theater. America did not slaughter an entire county of Chinese men, women, and children in retribution for escorting Doolittle’s raiders to safety. These were uniquely Japanese actions. And Japanese military cruelty and inhumanity during the war was unequaled in history to that point with the exception of the genocide occurring through Japan’s allies in Germany. And our leaders then knew exactly what was at stake.
Most citizens under 50 will not have learned how American firebombing of Japanese cities in 1945 killed thousands upon thousands as we leveled Japan’s industrial capacity and ability to make war. Most history books will not contain the fact that our general staff radioed Japan weekly demanding their surrender so that the work of death would cease. History books forget about the over one million leaflets dropped over Japan prior to the bombing entitled “Office of War Information Notice #2106”, notifying residents of Hiroshima and other cities to evacuate immediately as their city was subject to imminent allied bombing. Most historians neglect to note that the Japanese military command refused any terms of surrender and were ready to sacrifice every man, woman, and child in the defense of an inevitable invasion of their mainland, even after nuclear force was unleashed. Most historians estimate casualties of an actual invasion would exceed tens of millions on both sides.
It was only the intervention of the Emperor himself that spared the country from a rabid and indefatigable military elite. The Emperor demanded that his commanders surrender after the second atomic bomb fell. Several military leaders committed suicide rather than acquiesce to such a perceived embarrassment. A plot to kidnap the Emperor before he could surrender by military elites failed as the Emperor was on his way to announce that very surrender. The Japanese military leadership would rather have continued the war at any cost and blame Americans for the cruelty and loss they began and we sought to end for good. To this day Japanese schoolchildren learn of this era not as “World War II” but as “The War of American Aggression”, an equally egregious twisting of the facts (see War, Guilt and Politics after World War II, By Thomas U. Berger, Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Such stark historical reality is lost in the context of the speech. The President continued in a contrite tone:
“Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again. Someday, the voices of the Hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”
The truth is war is terrible and we continually craft more efficient ways to wage it. The harder truth is that without Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the last great world war may have extended much longer and cost countless more lives. And not because America desired an end to hostilities, but because an imperial Japanese military staff, hell-bent on an ancient and outdated sense of honor, saw the only path to glory through further relentless conflict. Without the bomb, and the demonstration of power and futility of resistance it brought, untold millions more would likely have perished. A brief video synopsis of the historical context and reasoning eloquently laid out by Bill Whittle can be viewed here:
This is the reality of the world we live in. The idealistic tenor in this speech about a “world without nuclear weapons” is nonsense. Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany defined the brutal fascism of the last century, where only indomitable military strength was able to remove their crimes and dreams of totalitarian domination from the world scene. There are plenty more despots lining up to have their turn this century, and some of them will undoubtedly have nuclear capability at their disposal. This is an unfortunate eventuality. Only with countries like America, with leadership dedicated to averting conflict through undefeatable strength and the preservation of basic human liberties, can the world be a safer place.
President Obama’s misplaced philosophy of simply embracing the world and asking it to change or disarm is completely out of touch with reality. And that myopic and misdirected vision was unfortunately reinforced again in his Hiroshima speech. Only with strong leadership from America, and a world view much different from the current administration, can any semblance of security be maintained across the globe as we march forward into an uncertain future.