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About The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current | View Entire Issue (May 16, 2016)
Page 16 n THE ASIAN REPORTER
May 16, 2016
With Hiroshima, Obama goes where predecessors stayed away
Mieko Mori prays in front of the
Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
a memorial monument for A-bomb
victims where the flames collected
from the ruins in the two cities
have been kept burning at Ueno
Park in Tokyo since the dropping
of atomic bombs in 1945. Japa-
nese are welcoming President
Barack Obama’s decision to visit
the atomic-bombed city of Hiro-
shima, and people interviewed
said they are not seeking an apol-
ogy. “I don’t live in Hiroshima or
Nagasaki, but I am overcome with
emotion when I think that someone
who wants to offer understanding
is finally about to arrive,” said
Mori, 74, who stopped at the
memorial to pray for the victims.
(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
By Bradley Klapper and
The Associated Press
ASHINGTON — When President Barack
Obama tours Hiroshima’s haunting relics of
nuclear warfare, he will be making a trip that
past administrations weighed and avoided. For good
reason: The hollowed core of the city’s A-Bomb Dome and
old photos of charred children are sure to rekindle
questions of guilt and penitence for World War II’s
Obama’s visit later this month already is stirring
debate on both sides of the Pacific about the motivations
and justifications for the nuclear attacks in Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. Anything he says will be sharply
scrutinized in the U.S., Japan, and beyond. Anything
resembling an apology could become a wedge issue in the
U.S. presidential campaign and plunge Obama into the
complicated politics of victimhood among Japan and its
“I don’t have any problem with him going, but there is
nothing to apologize for,” said Lester Tenney, a 95-year-
old American survivor of the 1942 Bataan Death March,
when the Japanese marched tens of thousands of Filipino
and U.S. soldiers to prison camps, and hundreds to their
Forty-two years ago, a White House aide suggested
President Gerald Ford visit the city where 140,000 people
were killed in the inferno on August 6, 1945. A senior
adviser, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, vetoed the idea: “It could
rekindle old animosities in Japan at a time when we are
striving for new relationships.”
Asked in 2008 if he might go, President George W. Bush
was noncommittal. In the end, it took 65 years for a U.S.
ambassador to attend the city’s annual memorial service.
Secretary of State John Kerry travelled there in April.
Obama won’t say sorry, U.S. officials have emphasized
repeatedly since announcing the trip. Instead of revisiting
the fateful decision to drop the bombs, the president will
“shine a spotlight on the tremendous and devastating
human toll of war” and “honor the memory of all innocents
who were lost,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy
national security adviser.
In some ways, Obama has it easier than his
predecessors. Japanese survivors, known as hibakusha,
have long refrained from demanding an apology, seeking
to mobilize Hiroshima’s revered sites for the causes of
pacifism and denuclearization. Even if Obama’s effort to
reduce America’s arsenal has stalled, most Japanese
support his much-recited preference for a nuclear-free
world and last year’s arms-control deal with Iran.
Nevertheless, Ian Buruma, a professor at Bard College
and author of Year Zero: A History of 1945, said visiting
Hiroshima is risky because of the lack of consensus in the
U.S. or Japan about the bombings.
Many Japanese see the attacks as atrocities; others
view them as punishment for Japan’s hostile acts, which
included conquering much of Asia and launching the
sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 that
led the U.S. into the war. And in the U.S., too, the debate
rages 71 years after “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” fell from
A majority of Americans justify the bombings for
hastening the war’s end. Historians are split. Buruma
said camps include those who believe President Harry
Truman, barely sworn in, failed to stop “bureaucratic
momentum” toward using a weapon that took so long to
develop. Others argue U.S. leadership mainly wanted to
intimidate the Soviet Union.
“I don’t think there will ever be clarity,” he said.
Japan’s debate often has made it hard for U.S.
presidents to visit, Buruma said.
Nationalists put forward the idea that the atomic
bombs “evened out” Nazi-allied Japan’s wartime atro-
cities, he said. The war in the Pacific killed millions across
Asia, including perhaps 14 million Chinese, and Japan
was responsible for chemical weapons attacks,
widespread torture, forced labor, and sexual slavery.
American deaths topped 100,000; a quarter-million were
Meanwhile, left-wing Japanese groups sought to
incorporate Hiroshima into their propaganda of Soviets
and communists as forces for peace, and the Americans as
warmongering imperialists, Buruma said.
With time, however, these movements largely receded
as the U.S.-Japanese alliance matured.
“Think about it: The White House announces a visit to a
place where the United States incinerated a city and over
100,000 people, stating clearly that it is not going to
apologize,” said Jennifer Lind, professor of government at
Dartmouth University. “In most relationships, this would
trigger outrage — not excitement — among the other
country. People would be criticizing their leader as selling
Still, Lind saw Obama making a “very liberal move”
that will open him up to criticism. Disarmament is a
partisan issue, she said, because conservatives emphasize
the centrality of nuclear arms to U.S. national security
policy and most Americans see the atomic bombings of
Japan as having ultimately saved lives.
That is not the dominant narrative in Japan, whose
reluctance to broach its own wartime record is often
compared unfavorably to the “Vergangenheitsbewaelti-
gung,” or responsibility for the past, that is a lynchpin of
Germany’s post-1945 identity. Japan has offered various
apologies for its wartime conduct, but conservative Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe’s approach to issues such as comfort
women has angered neighbors anew.
For China, the war started four years before Pearl
Harbor when Japanese forces pushed into the country’s
heartland. No one knows how many died. Many Chinese
believe Japan has never shown true contrition, which
shapes its view of Obama’s trip.
Continued on page 7
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