“Looking Forward” Comes to Hiroshima

Never mind an apology, Obama should admit the truth

By David Swanson, TeleSUR

A boy looks at a huge photograph showing Hiroshima city after the 1945 atomic bombing, at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Japan August 6, 2007.

Since before he entered the White House, Barack Obama has proposed handling past crimes by powerful people and entities through a policy called “looking forward” — in other words, by ignoring them. While President Obama has targeted whistleblowers with retribution and more prosecutions than his predecessors, deported more immigrants, and kept the lights on in Guantanamo, anyone responsible for war or assassination or torture or lawless imprisonment or most major Wall Street scams (or sharing military secrets with one’s mistress) has been given a total pass. Why shouldn’t Harry Truman receive the same privilege?

This policy, now being brought to Hiroshima, has been a miserable failure. Wars based on lies to Congress have been displaced by wars without Congress at all. Assassinations and support for coups are open public policy, with Tuesday kill list selections and State Department support for regimes in Honduras, Ukraine, and Brazil. Torture, in the new Washington consensus, is a policy choice with at least one presidential candidate campaigning on making greater use of it. Lawless imprisonment is likewise respectable in the hoped-and-changed world, and Wall Street is doing what it did before.

Obama has carried this policy of “looking forward” backward into the past, prior to his upcoming visit to Hiroshima. “Looking forward” requires only ignoring criminality and responsibility; it permits acknowledging occurrences in the past if one does so with a face that appears regretful and eager to move on. While Obama disagreed with President George W. Bush on Iraq, Bush meant well, or so Obama now says. As did U.S. forces in Vietnam, Obama says. The Korean War was actually a victory, Obama has rather surprisingly announced. “The risk-takers, the doers . . . [who] settled the West” prove “the greatness of our nation.” That was how Obama euphemized the North American genocide in his first inaugural address. What might one expect him to say of the romanticized acts of mass-murder in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the Truman regime squeezed in before World War II could end?

Many peace activists whom I greatly respect have been, along with survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (called Hibakusha), urging Obama to apologize for the nuclear bombings and/or to meet briefly with survivors. I am not opposed to such steps, but rhetoric and photo ops are not what’s really needed and can often work against what’s really needed. By virtue of his rhetoric and party membership, Obama has been given a pass on his warmaking for over seven years. I’d have preferred he said nothing, made no speeches at all. By virtue of a speech in Prague in which Obama persuaded people that eliminating nukes must take decades, he has been given a pass on massive investment in new nukes, continued first-strike policy, more nukes in Europe, escalated hostility toward Russia, continued noncompliance with the nonproliferation treaty, and dangerous fear mongering around Iran’s scary (though nonexistent) nuclear weapons program.

What’s needed is not an apology so much as an admission of the facts. When people learn the facts around claims of mountaintop rescues in Iraq, or where ISIS came from, whether Gadaffi was really threatening to massacre and handing out Viagra for rape, whether Iraq really had WMDs or took babies out of incubators, what actually happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, why the USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor, and so forth, then people turn against war. Then they all come to believe that an apology is needed. And they offer apologies on behalf of their government. And they demand a formal apology. This is what should happen for Hiroshima.

I’ve joined over 50 U.S. signers on a letter drafted by historian Peter Kuznick to be published on May 23rd that asks President Obama to make good use of his visit to Hiroshima by:

  • “Meeting with all Hibakusha who are able to attend
  • Announcing the end of U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion for the new generation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems
  • Reinvigorating nuclear disarmament negotiations to go beyond New START by announcing the unilateral reduction of the deployed U.S. arsenal to 1,000 nuclear weapons or fewer
  • Calling on Russia to join with the United States in convening the ‘good faith negotiations’ required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for the complete elimination of the world’s nuclear arsenals.
  • Reconsidering your refusal to apologize or discuss the history surrounding the A-bombings, which even President Eisenhower, Generals MacArthur, King, Arnold, and LeMay and Admirals Leahy and Nimitz stated were not necessary to end the war.”

If President Obama just apologizes, without explaining the facts of the matter, then he’ll simply get himself denounced as a traitor without making the U.S. public any less likely to back wars. The need to “discuss the history” is therefore critical.

When asked if Obama would himself have done what Truman did, Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest said: “I think what the president would say is that it’s hard to put yourself in that position from the outside. I think what the president does appreciate is that president Truman made this decision for the right reasons. President Truman was focused on the national security interests of the United States, . . . on bringing an end to a terrible war. And president Truman made this decision fully mindful of the likely human toll. I think it’s hard to look back and second-guess it too much.”

This is quintessential “looking forward.” One must not look back and second-guess that someone powerful did something wrong. One should look back and conclude that he had good intentions, thus rendering whatever damage he caused “collateral damage” of those all-absolving good intentions.

This wouldn’t matter so much if people in the United States knew the actual history of what happened to Hiroshima. Here’s a recent Reuters article tactfully distinguishing between what people in the United States imagine and what historians understand:

“A majority of Americans see the bombings as having been necessary to end the war and save U.S. and Japanese lives, although many historians question that view. Most Japanese believe they were unjustified.”

Reuters goes on to advocate for looking forward:

“Officials in both countries have made clear they want to stress the present and future, not dig into the past, even as the two leaders honor all victims of the war.”

Honoring victims by avoiding looking at what happened to them? Almost humorously, Reuters turns immediately to asking the Japanese government to look backward:

“Even without an apology, some hope that Obama’s visit will highlight the huge human cost of the bombings and pressure Japan to own up more forthrightly to its responsibilities and atrocities.”

As it should. But how will Obama visiting the site of a massive and unprecedented crime, and blatantly failing to acknowledge the criminality and responsibility encourage Japan to take the opposite approach?

I have previously drafted what I’d like to hear Obama say in Hiroshima. Here’s an excerpt:

“There has for many years no longer been any serious dispute. Weeks before the first bomb was dropped, on July 13, 1945, Japan sent a telegram to the Soviet Union expressing its desire to surrender and end the war. The United States had broken Japan’s codes and read the telegram. Truman referred in his diary to ‘the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.’ President Truman had been informed through Swiss and Portuguese channels of Japanese peace overtures as early as three months before Hiroshima. Japan objected only to surrendering unconditionally and giving up its emperor, but the United States insisted on those terms until after the bombs fell, at which point it allowed Japan to keep its emperor.

“Presidential advisor James Byrnes had told Truman that dropping the bombs would allow the United States to ‘dictate the terms of ending the war.’ Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal wrote in his diary that Byrnes was ‘most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in.’ Truman wrote in his diary that the Soviets were preparing to march against Japan and ‘Fini Japs when that comes about.’ Truman ordered the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th and another type of bomb, a plutonium bomb, which the military also wanted to test and demonstrate, on Nagasaki on August 9th. Also on August 9th, the Soviets attacked the Japanese. During the next two weeks, the Soviets killed 84,000 Japanese while losing 12,000 of their own soldiers, and the United States continued bombing Japan with non-nuclear weapons. Then the Japanese surrendered.

“The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that, ‘… certainly prior to 31 December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.’ One dissenter who had expressed this same view to the Secretary of War prior to the bombings was General Dwight Eisenhower. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy agreed: ‘The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender,’ he said.”

Fortunately for the world, the non-nuclear nations are moving to ban nuclear weapons. Bringing nuclear nations on board and effecting disarmament will require beginning to tell the truth.

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  • Z23

    Hey idiots: Nuclear weapons do NOT exist:


  • Daniel “No Passport” Bruno

    Not only do they need to admit that Japan was about to surrender, they need to admit that Roosevelt knew the exact date Pearl Harbor would be attacked but he let it happen so the American publc would support war with Germany. And, AMerican sanctions on Japan were intended to provoke an attack. By the way, NATO just installed new missles designed to undecut Russias ability to
    hit back if attacked. This is destabilzing, violates Reagan Gorby accords and put us on a path to nuclear war by design or accident. http://www.charleslampkin.org

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  • MrLiberty

    Obama is himself a war criminal for at least his weekly assassinations of innocents around the globe with his drone warfare in violation of national sovereignty and the due process clause of the Constitution. He most certainly CAN’T bring up the war crimes of so many other previous presidents, etc lest someone point out the obvious. It is the same with EVERY previous president since at least Truman. Government MUST be abandoned as a social construct. It is the greatest repository of evil in any society.

  • hyperbola

    From the article:

    “”When asked if Obama would himself have done what Truman did, Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest said: “I think what the president would say is that it’s hard to put yourself in that position from the outside. I think what the president does appreciate is that president Truman made this decision for the right reasons. President Truman was focused on the national security interests of the United States, . . . on bringing an end to a terrible war. And president Truman made this decision fully mindful of the likely human toll. I think it’s hard to look back and second-guess it too much.””

    In fact, at the time most of our military leaders condemned Truman for using nukes on Japan. This is the same Truman who put us on the road to the “national security state”, made us slaves to zionist occupation of Palestine, fostered the military-industrial complex on us, and is a “hero” to our present ZionCon parasites. Already then the coup of 1912-1913 (US Federal Reserve) had made the US slaves of a corrupt, racist, abusive, foreign sect.

    Slow Boats and Atom Bombs

    I was mustered out of the Navy in October 1946…. only now, all these years later, have I been resurrecting my war stories. For the last year, since a little before Christmas 2002, at the request of my son (!) I have been writing a series of letters on my war experiences for my granddaughters, Katy 16, and Annie 13. Letter No. 16 is on the ways at the shipyard right now; I am about to (re)sail, aboard LSM 329 (Landing Ship Medium) from Okinawa to Guam and from Guam to Pearl Harbor in the months of June, July, and August 1945…. Somewhere on the weeks-long run back to Pearl (we made about 10 nautical miles an hour) we heard a static-y radio announcement on our short wave that some kind of new thing, an uhbamemb or something, had been dropped on Japan….

    In the course of writing those letters to my granddaughters I stumbled on a site called “The Unnecessary Bombs.” In one of my letters to them I quoted a whole raft of the remarks posted there that were made post-bomb by some military biggies (and some political ones), names that were once familiar to every household. Was I attempting to brainwash my granddaughters? Yes indeed.

    I sent along to them, too, this introductory statement made on the site, which I agreed with: “Most of the top US brass were against use of the bomb and did not regard it as militarily necessary [See quotes below]. Truman and Byrnes [then Secretary of State] delayed the end of the war and cost American and Asian lives by deliberately refusing to clarify the surrender terms, by deliberately stalling Sino-Soviet talks, by deliberately postponing the Potsdam conference, and by deliberately ignoring the many Japanese peace feelers.”

    Admiral William D. Leahy. 5-star admiral, president of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the combined American-British Chiefs of Staff, and chief of staff to the commander-in-chief of the army and navy from 1942–1945 (Roosevelt) and 1945–1949 (Truman): “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. . . . My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted the ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.

    Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, quoted by his widow: “. . . I felt that it was an unnecessary loss of civilian life. . . . We had them beaten. They hadn’t enough food, they couldn’t do anything.”

    Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet: “The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment. . . . It was a mistake ever to drop it . . . (the scientists) had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it. . . . It killed a lot of Japs, but the Japs had put out a lot of peace feelers through Russia long before.”

    Rear Admiral Lewis L. Strauss, special assistant to the Secretary of the Navy: “I, too, felt strongly that it was a mistake to drop the atom bombs, especially without warning.” [The atomic bomb] “was not necessary to bring the war to a successful conclusion . . . it was clear to a number of people . . . that the war was very nearly over. The Japanese were nearly ready to capitulate . . . it was a sin – to use a good word – [a word that] should be used more often – to kill non-combatants. . . .”

    Major General Curtis E. LeMay, US Army Air Forces (at a press conference, September 1945): “The war would have been over in two weeks without the Russians entering and without the atomic bomb . . . the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”

    Major General Claire Chennault, founder of the Flying Tigers, and former US Army Air Forces commander in China: “Russia’s entry into the Japanese war was the decisive factor in speeding its end and would have been so even if no atomic bombs had been dropped…”

    General George C. Kenney, commander of Army Air Force units in the Southwest Pacific, when asked whether using the atomic bomb had been a wise decision. “No! I think we had the Japs licked anyhow. I think they would have quit probably within a week or so of when they did quit.”

    W. Averill Harriman, in private notes after a dinner with General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz (commander in July 1945 of the Pacific-based US Army Strategic Air Forces), and Spaatz’s one-time deputy commanding general in Europe, Frederick L. Anderson: “…Both felt Japan would surrender without use of the bomb, and neither knew why a second bomb was used.”

    General Dwight D. Eisenhower: “I voiced to him [Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson] my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was at that very moment seeking some way to surrender with a minimum of loss of ‘face’. . . . It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

    former President Herbert Hoover: “I told MacArthur of my memorandum of mid-May 1945 to Truman, that peace could be had with Japan by which our major objectives would be accomplished. MacArthur said that was correct and that we would have avoided all of the losses, the Atomic bomb, and the entry of Russia into Manchuria.”

    Richard M. Nixon: “MacArthur once spoke to me very eloquently about it. . . . He thought it a tragedy that the Bomb was ever exploded. MacArthur believed that the same restrictions ought to apply to atomic weapons as to conventional weapons, that the military objective should always be to limit damage to noncombatants. . . . MacArthur, you see, was a soldier. He believed in using force only against military targets, and that is why the nuclear thing turned him off, which I think speaks well of him.

    The first possessor of nuclear weaponry behaved badly with it and gave to the world a stunning example of wanton barbarism, an example that has proved fertile of imitators. Now the world is full of states with WND (Weapons of Nuclear Destruction), and we await the use of them by one of these WND possessor-states according to the iron law of weaponry: if it exists it will be used.

    From first to last all the possessors of WND are rogue states. The most powerful of them (the U.S.) and the most threatened of them (Israel) are in league today. The U.S. might use them in an excess of hubris; Israel might use them in an excess of vengefulness; the other possessor states might use them in the grip of some mix of the two emotions indulged in by their rulers and their collectives.

    – may the next turn of the wheel bring us back to sanity and morality, please God. We have been too long alienated from both.