Hiroshima: A Tale of Two U.S. Presidents
June 6, 2016
One week into office, President Barack Obama apologized to the Muslim world declaring, “we have not been perfect.” Traveling the globe as president, he continually blames America for the world’s ills.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, veterans groups opposed Obama’s May 27 visit to Hiroshima, Japan, where America dropped the world’s first atomic bomb, bringing an end to World War II.
Although Obama promised he would not second-guess President Harry Truman’s August 6, 1945 decision to use the weapon, he did. This should not be surprising—it was proffered by self-confessed liar (concerning the Iranian nuclear deal) Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
At Hiroshima, Obama said the “scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.” Supposedly, the morality of dropping the bomb was lost upon Truman. Later, Truman challenged critics to stand upon the keels of Pearl Harbor’s sunken battleships where remains of thousands of young men, never given a chance to live full lives, are entombed and opt for a costly invasion.
Basking in the peaceful sunshine of the hard fought freedom won by our Greatest Generation 71 years ago, Obama easily moralized about Truman’s decision. But, by not dropping the bomb, a million-plus more American lives would have been lost by invading Japan. Planners knew Operation Olympic, set to begin in November 1945, would be the bloodiest seaborne attack of all time.
Unlike Obama who, today, pontificates as an idealist, the situation back then demanded a realist as U.S. president.
Obama chastised Truman’s decision with the statement, “How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.” He later added, “We shall not repeat the evil” of Hiroshima.
But such comments are made, detached from the reality of the time. They ignore both the estimated 1.7 million American lives a Japanese invasion would have cost and the estimated five to ten million Japanese lives lost from the anticipated large-scale participation of civilians in their nation’s defense. Thus, atom bomb usage may well have saved both sides many more lives than the total actually lost in the bombings.
Post-war U.S. intelligence, gleaned from reading through Japan’s plans for defending the homeland and from examining weapons caches maintained by would-be civilian defenders, reinforced the pre-bombing estimated losses.
Obama said the war fell into “an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints,” apparently equating Japanese brutality to America’s for using the bomb.
It is doubtful constraint reigned high among American concerns in August 1945 after bearing witness to the rape and pillaging by Japanese forces sweeping through Asia, an unprovoked sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the ever brutal fighting taking place in the Pacific.
While, obviously, Japan’s surprise Pearl Harbor strike remained a festering national wound, more importantly Tokyo, only eleven days before the bombing, had ignored the Allies’ ultimatum for unconditional surrender, although alternatively warned it faced “prompt and utter destruction.”
As numerous battlefield defeats and firebombings of cities on mainland Japan, including Tokyo, had failed to force a surrender, the bomb became the more viable option.
Forgotten is the fact, even after the Hiroshima bombing, Tokyo still refused to surrender unconditionally. Therefore, three days later, on August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
The combination of the Nagasaki bombing, the Soviet Union’s declaration of war against Japan on August 8 and Japan not knowing the U.S. was out of immediately-available atom bombs, all caused Tokyo to announce its surrender August 15.
What the idealist also easily forgets about Truman’s decision is that it actually may have spared Japan from a Soviet occupation.
Days after declaring war, Soviet forces were mopping up remnants of Japanese forces along the Kuril island chain. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin sought to occupy additional Japanese territory. He backed down only after Truman ordered a halt. Having noted Hiroshima’s and Nagasaki’s destruction, Stalin respected Truman’s demand.
Seven decades after the war’s end, Obama fails to grasp—as do many Americans today—the realities of the suffering Japan wrought back then.
Such distancing from reality is reflected by polls taken in 1945 and 2005. In 1945, 85% of Americans approved of the bombings; in 2005, only 57% did. Last year, 47% of Americans between 18-29 disapproved of them.
In his rush to be the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima, Obama selected a most inappropriate time. On the eve of Memorial Day—a day we remember those in uniform who made the ultimate sacrifice in wartime—Obama went to mourn Japan’s dead but not America’s.
Choosing to describe “the world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Obama made no effort to mention that same world war started with a brutal beginning. Likewise, he chose to open his speech with, “Death fell from the sky and the world was changed.” While insinuating U.S. culpability, the words were just as applicable to Pearl Harbor—yet no similar insinuation of Japanese culpability was uttered.
A more appropriate time for Obama to have visited Hiroshima would have been following a visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Pearl Harbor to apologize for starting the war. That never happened—and, only two days prior to Obama’s visit, Abe rejected making a reciprocal visit. Thus, Japan plays the role of victim in a war it started by victimizing America first.
Unfortunately, Obama could not depart Japan without embarking upon his all-too-common-but-unqualified professorial role. As Obama made a call for nuclear disarmament, only the realist grasped this idealist president’s hypocrisy. Having negotiated a nuclear deal earlier with Iran, he had given the one nation within the world community most likely to use nuclear weapons a pathway by which to obtain them.
With less than eight months to go, Obama still endeavors to earn something he received as president in 2009 he never should have—the Nobel Peace Prize. Unearned then, it remains unearned now.