President Obama in Hiroshima

July 1, 2016
By Michael Drohan

On May 27, 2016, President Obama visited Japan and the city of Hiroshima more than seventy decades after the United States dropped the 10,000 pound atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy,” which killed more than 70,000 people instantly and flattened the city. Many other residents apart from those instantly killed suffered unimaginable painful aftereffects of radiation which eventually cost the deaths of 100,000 more people. Since that fateful and dreadful day for humanity, August 6, 1945, no US President has ever visited the site of the crime. President Obama was the first for which there is great credit due.

Suppose for a moment that Howard Zinn or Fr. Dan Berrigan, recently deceased, were the speechwriter for President Obama. Something like the following is what we might have heard from President Obama:

“Dear People of Japan and the City of Hiroshima, seventy one years ago, on a bright and cloudless morning, an American plane unleashed the most horrific and inhuman weapon ever invented on this city, incinerating at least 70,000 innocent citizens and endangering the entire human race as we did not really know the ultimate consequences of this conflagration. This was a great act of terrorism committed by my country and its leadership. In a real sense, we could say it was the ultimate crime. The victims of this crime were never able to see justice served for this crime unfortunately. And the criminals who carried out this heinous crime were never brought to justice for this crime. Alas, I cannot do anything about this, but what I can do is apologize to you, the people of Japan, on behalf of my country and my government. From the depths of my heart, I promise to you that I will do all in my power to abolish the weapons that were first used on that fateful day and make sure that they will never be used again. Thank you for your forbearance and listening to me.”

But as we know, that is not what we heard on the occasion of President Obama’s historic visit. Rather the following is what we heard, at least in part:

“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.

“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.

“Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction. How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.”

President Obama is no doubt to be commended for the visit and the courage he exhibited in doing so. But his speech leaves so much to be desired in terms of saying the truth honestly. No apology for perhaps the greatest war crime ever committed. No admission of guilt and we may ask the question why? The simple answer is that Obama is President of  Empire, the American Empire, and empires and emperors do not apologize. The empire will not allow anyone to apologize on its behalf.

But the story gets worse in regard to the Japan visit. The real reason for the visit was to rearm Japan and consolidate the encirclement of China. It was not about Japan or an apology of any kind but to ensure the alliance of the US, Korea (South), Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan in isolating China. So sadly, despite President Obama’s reflections on the horrors of war, bombs and conflict, his visit was essentially a summons to more war.

Michael Drohan is a member of the Editorial Collective and the Board of the Merton Center.


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