On Friday President Obama delivered a speech at Hiroshima Japan. For a couple of weeks before this visit I had seen news items from some of my more extreme conservative friends about how President Obama had either already apologized (interesting that they were not informed enough to even know that President Obama had not gone to Japan yet) or was going to apologize for the US dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
On Friday, President Obama delivered his speech. And contrary to the claims of these conservatives, he did not apologize for Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. From a New York Times article
“People in Asian countries that were brutalized by imperial Japan had warned that a presidential apology would be inappropriate. President Obama not only did not apologize, he made clear that Japan, despite a highly advanced culture, was to blame for the war, which “grew out of the same base instinct for domination, for conquest, that had caused conflicts amongst the simplest tribes.”
Having seen the reactions of these conservatives before President Obama had made his speech I was curious to see how they would react to the fact that he did not apologize for the United States dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. I wish I could say that I was surprised, but sadly I was not. They ignored reality and instead stated that President Obama was apologizing for dropping the bomb.
Since they have written several articles on this subject and are a favorite “news” source for the extreme conservatives I will use an article from Breitbart as an example of such conservatives thinking. From Breitbart, “Obama Dishonors Memorial Day at Hiroshima”
“At Hiroshima, Obama was silent on the question of American sacrifice, American valor, and American virtue, but eloquent on the issue of American guilt.
What Obama did NOT do in his speech in Japan was to praise America’s fallen warriors, the men and women whose bravery and sacrifice saved the world from nuclear war over the 71 years since that first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.”
This quote is the gist, the heart of all the radical conservatives’ denunciation of President Obama’s Hiroshima speech – he did not laud American virtue and praise our fallen warriors. He did not expound on the wonders of the United States.
However, that is what Memorial Day is for. This was not Memorial Day and the purpose of this speech was different. Its purpose? From an interview President Obama had with the Japanese news organization NHK World,
“My purpose is not to simply revisit the past, but to affirm that innocent people die in a war, on all sides, that we should do everything we can to try to promote peace and dialogue around the world, that we should continue to strive for a world without nuclear weapons”
“…that I do not expect to provide a very long speech but rather, I think, some very humble reflections about my views on how we can forge a better peace around the world, and how we can use the model of relations between the United States and Japan as an example of how we can move forward.”
His purpose was not to dwell on the past but to use it as a way to reflect on how we can create a better world.
So, what did President Obama say in his speech? Here is a link to the entire speech. You will find no apology in it. You will find no remonstration against the decisions made by our nation then. Not even indirectly.
“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.
Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.”
This is no apology. It is a statement of fact. A “terrible force” was unleashed. One that showed humanity had grown in knowledge to such an extent that humanity could now “destroy itself”. This speech used the fact that in all wars innocents die to urge us to now grow in wisdom as we have in knowledge. And then used the example of Japan and the United States to illustrate how that wisdom can happen.
“Some day, 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.
And since that fateful day, we have made choices that give us hope. The United States and Japan have forged not only an alliance but a friendship that has won far more for our people than we could ever claim through war. The nations of Europe built a union that replaced battlefields with bonds of commerce and democracy. Oppressed people and nations won liberation. An international community established institutions and treaties that work to avoid war and aspire to restrict and roll back and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.”
But read President Obama’s speech yourself and see with your own eyes and create your own understanding based on what he actually said and not what others say. I will say that unlike the radical conservatives here in the United States, the Japanese people see no apology. That fact alone should give the conservatives pause since how can there be an apology to someone if that person does not see it as such?
Now before going over why these conservatives argue with a devil of their own making, I would like to point out two pieces of irony here in their strident criticism of this speech.
The first is that in his speech President Obama prominently and favorably talked about our Declaration of Independence.
“My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.”
The other piece of irony here is that these conservatives are so concerned with how President Obama has dishonored us, even to the point of calling on Congress to censure him, that they have totally overlooked the fact that he honored the memories of 12 American pilots who were being held captive in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped.
He not only mentioned these pilots in his speech, he embraced a Japanese survivor of Hiroshima, Shigeaki Mori who was 8 years old when Hiroshima went up in atomic fire. The reason for the embrace? Shigeaki has spent decades not only researching the fates of these American prisoners of war but rescued their memories. Had he not done this research today we would still not know what happened to them. Part of a good memorial is knowing the fates of those who died – how and when. It is why the Vietnam War is still so fresh for so many who still do not know the fates of their loved ones. It is why President Obama embraced Shigeaki.
Now we come to the question of why are these conservatives are creating and then believing in these delusions? The answer is why I titled this blog “A Memorial Day Observation”.
Part of the reason why they are doing this may be a genuine inability to understand what President Obama said. They are concerned only with looking back and justifying every action the United States has done. They are focused tightly upon the honor of the United States, with making sure that our national pride is unhurt and unharmed that they interpret all things according to that measure, even things that have no bearing on that issue. They want to ensure the world knows that the others are at fault and we are the virtuous ones in all ways and all actions.
Which may be one reason why this speech so confuses them – it looks forward. It uses the past, dropping the bomb on Hiroshima, as a jumping off point to look forward. It looks to what can be done to prevent such decisions from ever having to be made ever again, from people having to suffer that devastation again. The fact that statements explicitly stating that Japan started the war, that they committed brutal acts against not only soldiers but civilians, and that our bombing of them saved American troops were not needed nor the subject of this speech seems to be beyond their ability to comprehend. The fact that President Obama used Hiroshima for something other than rubbing the Japanese faces into this muck and elevating our own stature by strutting has caused them to overlook the fact that President Obama did NOT apologize for the United States dropping the bomb.
They are stuck in the past and so cannot comprehend an honest look at what could be. All such views, to their mind, must first denigrate our opponents and laud our greatness. They are rather like a two bit wrestler in this.
Of course, this is only part of the reason why these conservatives do this. The other part is that they are so blinded by their hatred of President Obama, so bent by their bigotry, and so blinkered by their ideology that they can no longer recognize what is true or false about what President Obama did, does, and will do. All such actions must be broken down, twisted, and bent into something that will pass the filters of their hatred, bigotry, and ideology. Even at the expense of truth and reality.
And this leads me to my Memorial Day Observation.
Our soldiers have died to protect our freedoms – our freedom of religion, of speech, of association and all the others. They died to protect such freedoms for all Americans, whether wise or foolish, whether ignorant or informed, whether hateful or empathetic.
But, while they died to protect the freedom of all, wouldn’t it be a better memorial to the sacrifice they made to have your view of the world be realistic, rational, and concerned with the well- being of all? Wouldn’t it be a better memorial to their sacrifice for us to be working towards creating a world in which no one would have to make such a sacrifice ever again?
And that was what President Obama’s speech was about.