On 6 August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and three days later, 9 August, the U.S. dropped yet another atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki. The immediate death toll from these two bombings was estimated at over 100,000 people, with at least that many dying within the four months following the bombings. Less than a week later, 15 August, Japan surrendered, marking the end of World War II. The official death toll from the two bombings was 210,000, though it will never be fully known how many died from later effects of the bombings.
During the past 70 years, there has been much debate about whether bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was ‘the right thing to do’, bringing the war to a close and thus saving countless lives, or whether it was an act of inhumanity. Those who supported the decision to drop the bombs claimed that in doing so, we were actually saving lives. Then President Harry S. Truman, in his 1955 memoirs claims that “the atomic bomb probably saved half a million U.S. lives.” Henry Stimson, then Secretary of War, claimed the bombings had saved one million U.S. casualties, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill also estimated the acts had saved one million U.S. and a half-million British casualties. Maybe, but we will never know. It is not my intent here to re-hash this debate, but briefly, my thoughts are that it was a horrific act that took far too many lives, almost all civilians. In claiming that these bombings saved U.S. lives, it appears there is a certain arrogance, an assumption that U.S. lives have more value than Japanese lives. I suspect the estimates that a million or more lives would have been lost had the war continued is a bloated estimate, one that is intended to serve as justification, to relieve our collective consciences. While I am certain that the decision to drop the bombs was not made lightly, I do think there were other options and I wish, some 70 years later, that those options had been pursued. Enough said.
This week, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima. I, for one, felt great pride in our president as I saw him hugging Shigeaki Mori, 79, a survivor who was but a child when the bomb fell on his city. Obama’s speech was poignant:
“Seventy-one years ago on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder the terrible force unleashed in the 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.”
In the guest book at the memorial site, Obama wrote: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”
As with nearly every single act President Obama has performed during his nearly eight years in office, there just had to be those who criticized. I fail to understand the criticism. President Obama did not offer an apology for the decision by his predecessor, but merely offered empathy, compassion, and a commitment to strive for a more peaceful world, one without nuclear weapons. There is absolutely nothing to object to in this, and it is, in my opinion, an act of class, one that should have been done long ago.
American veteran’s groups had urged President Obama not to visit Hiroshima until the Japanese apologize for the wartime treatment of American prisoners of war, thousands of whom died of abuse and starvation in Japanese prison camps. Others claim that even though the president did not tender an apology, they feared the Japanese might view his visit as such. And, of course, this being the middle of a very ugly election year, the politicians and political wannabe’s had to have their say. America’s very own bimbo, Sarah Palin, called the historic visit an “apology lap”, and accused Obama of “dissing our vets”. She added, “Our commander in chief suggesting – actually, lying in suggestions – to the world that we were wrong to prove that we would eradicate evil in World War II.” Eradicate evil? Seriously? But then, we did not really expect her to say anything sensible, did we? Not content to leave it at that, she further added “You mess with our freedom, we’ll put a boot in your ass. It’s the American way.” Would somebody please shut this bimbo up!!!!!
I give President Obama a two-thumbs-up for having the heart, the courage, and the class to stand up to his detractors and visit the historic city of Hiroshima. At this point, nearly 71 years after the fact, apologies would have little meaning, but compassion and humanitarianism are always valued. The tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were terrible and likely avoidable. We cannot go back and change the decisions made decades ago, but we can learn from our past mistakes, and we can learn to respect those who were once our enemies. This week, President Obama took a huge step toward showing that respect, and if it is viewed by some as an apology of sorts, then so be it. Perhaps that is what is right and proper.