President Obama, who began his presidency with an apology tour, is ending with a trip to Hiroshima later this month. He won't offer an apology for the American bombing of Hiroshima–well, not exactly, we are told. But of course his mournful presence will speak volumes for America's detractors.
There are two pieces in today's Wall Street Journal to prepare us for what bids to be a very unfortunate trip–Father Wilson Miscamble's "Obama, Truman, and Hiroshima" and "The Hiroshima Speech Obama Will Never Give," an editorial. Many of us go back and forth on Hiroshima. I'm mostly forth.
Father Miscamble writes that "there is no reason to apologize for the atomic bombing, which forestalled invasion and saved lives." Father Miscamble writes:
Mr. Obama, as well as his Japanese hosts, should appreciate that Truman authorized the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both major military-industrial targets, to help win the gruesome Pacific War as quickly as possible and with the loss of the fewest American lives—and, as it turned out, the loss of the fewest Japanese lives.
His goal was to avoid an invasion of Japan’s home islands, which Truman knew would mean, in his words, “an Okinawa from one end of Japan to the other.” For those who need reminding, the battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest, most ferocious engagements of World War II, with Allied forces—most of them American—suffering more than 65,000 casualties, including 14,000 dead. Truman’s intentions and assumptions were legitimate.
. . .
Truman’s authorization to use the A-bombs should be seen as his choosing the least awful of the options available. He didn’t turn his back on some obvious and feasible “moral” course of action that would have secured a Japanese surrender. Even in retrospect, far removed from the pressures that Truman faced in 1945, his critics can offer no serious and persuasive alternatives.
Harry Truman of Independence, Mo., tried to live by a moral code grounded in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Yet he also knew that statesmen must make difficult decisions in the fog of war. Perhaps Truman had the A-bomb in mind when he wrote 15 years later that “sometimes you have a choice of evils, in which case you try to take the course that is likely to bring the least harm.”
President Obama loves international meetings on what he regards as worthy causes. But the Hiroshima speech the editors at the Wall Street Journal have penned for him breathes a greater sense of realism than do these meetings. The editors know that conferences and meals at highly-rated Michelin restaurants aren't going to help solve the problems of the world. They suggest that President Obama address his good intentions for a nuclear-free world and then move onto the failure of these intentions:
Unfortunately, as I’ve learned the hard way, a nuclear-free world cannot be achieved merely through summits and the good will of democratically elected leaders. On the contrary, it seems that every time democracies seek to disarm, autocratic regimes accelerate their military designs.
North Korea continues to make strides toward miniaturizing an atomic warhead that can fit atop ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan and the United States. Despite my effort at a diplomatic reset, Russia has tested intermediate-range cruise missiles in violation of its treaty obligations, and it may soon withdraw from the 1996 nuclear test ban to field a new class of weapons. China is in the midst of an extensive nuclear modernization, as is India.
Pakistan has significantly increased its nuclear arsenal, despite that country’s internal volatility. Our deal with Iran has not stopped it from testing long-range missiles whose likeliest military purpose is to deliver a nuclear warhead. Prominent Saudis have discussed acquiring their own nuclear weapons.
These are facts that prudent leaders cannot ignore. Instead of moving toward a nuclear-free world, we seem to be entering a second nuclear age of more destructive bombs in the hands of more dangerous regimes. The Cold War involved one arms race between my country and the Soviet Union. Now we are looking at a world of regional arms races: in the Middle East, South Asia and perhaps even here in East Asia. The potential for miscalculations, accidents or sudden escalation is growing.
But he will not give this speech. He will not directly apologize but he will not stand up for Harry Truman's honor either. It will be the speech of a vain, incurious man who has learned little and been changed not at all by sittingat Harry Truman's desk.