If Obama Goes to Hiroshima
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Americans are already dreading the prospect that President Obama is going to make a visit to Hiroshima to apologize for our use of the atomic bomb against the Rising Sun. Supposedly no decision has been made on this head, but the Post newspaper in Washington reports that aides to the President “have begun exploring the possibility of Obama spending several hours in Hiroshima” when he is in Japan in May. Let us just say, no good can come of it.
The idea for the visit seems to be that Mr. Obama would travel to Hiroshima after the Group of Seven Summit at Ise-Shima. The Post quoted one senior Obama administration official as suggesting that such a presidential visit would, as the Post paraphrased the official, “draw international attention in a more emotional fashion than” the president accomplished last week with his nuclear summit in Washington. Even if Mr. Obama were to visit without making an apology, it can be but a recipe for trouble.
This was learned the hard way by the Smithsonian Institution in the mid-1990s, when it planned an exhibit that included the Enola Gay, which dropped the a-bomb over Hiroshima. When Congress discovered that exhibit would be tilted against the American mission — it was called political correct curating — the exhibition was cancelled, and the head of the Air and Space Museum was forced to resign. Eventually the Enola Gay got a more appropriate display at Dulles Airport.
Why Mr. Obama feels the urge to speak at Hiroshima is a question we’re content to leave to the psychologists. Up to a point. The question of gradualism in war is now in the news, owing to the President’s half-commitment against the Islamic State, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. (This week Mr. Obama cited the half effort in Libya the “worst mistake” of his presidency, though that’s different than regretting holding back on airpower). The thing about Hiroshima is that it stopped the Japanese Empire in a fell swoop.
This was widely recognized at the time. In an editorial in August 1945, the New York Times warned against revisionist thinking. It predicted, with uncanny accuracy, that “the future romantic interpretation will ascribe Japan’s surrender to the Allied psychology barrage.” It will, it said, “be overlooked that the psychological warfare was a dud until Japan’s navy had been destroyed and the destruction of the mainland was speeded up with a rush by the atomic bomb.”
That’s a lesson to remember even now, and it would be wrong of Mr. Obama to go to Hiroshima if his aim there is to apologize. There is no doubt that innocent Japanese — children, in the main — were among the 140,000 who perished in the first strike with an atomic bomb (another 80,000 died at Nagasaki). Their deaths, though, came in consequence of Japan’s own tyranny. What needs to be expressed by any American president is gratitude for the American heroes who brought the war to an end.