On May 27, President Obama visited the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 with the purpose of ending World War II in a quick-and-dirty fashion. Obama’s visit was unprecedented as no sitting president has visited the city since the bombing.
Roughly 100,000 people died as a result of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, and another 40,000 perished in the city of Nagasaki where another bomb was dropped. Due to the destructive nature of the weapon, those numbers are likely lower than the actual count.
When the country caught wind that Obama was planning on speaking in Hiroshima, a giant debate ensued across the country. Some were praising Obama’s visit and some were criticizing the decision. Ultimately, one word was tossed around back and forth in the news media and on social media. This word, which was not used at all in Obama’s speech, is “apology.”
A large portion of the country was outraged that Obama might apologize for the actions taken in 1945. As usual, memes dominated the average Facebook news feed. I may have seen one or two memes that supported the idea of an apology, but most of the posts were filled with anger towards Obama and the Japanese. The overall theme across all the internet memes was something along the lines of “it’s Memorial Day weekend” and “I won’t apologize because of Pearl Harbor.”
To those who happened to share one of these memes (perhaps the one with the mushroom cloud) you do have a point. Memorial Day is a tough holiday for many Americans who have lost loved ones in wars over time. The scheduling of Obama’s Hiroshima visit was certainly strange and awkward. We owe it to those who have given their lives to our country to remember their sacrifices. This can be a hard thing to do when the president is “apologizing” to the country responsible for the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which claimed the lives of 2,403 U.S. soldiers and personnel.
However, these memes were brutal. The one pictured below was one of the more popular ones to be shared around Facebook.
To be completely honest, I do not think I have ever seen a meme with a message as ignorant and stupid as this one. Pearl Harbor was awful, and we should remember the 2,403 people who died that day, but I do not understand how someone can confidently say that killing 140,000 plus people was an act of just repercussion for killing 2,403 of our own. I am an American, but I am a human first. I definitely support our troops, but I have a hard time placing a larger value on one human life over another. Our country killed 140,000 people with the most destructive man-made weapon ever built. The victims were not all soldiers either. Many of the people who died in Japan were civilians. Children. We even offed 12 of our own who were being held as prisoners of war by the Japanese.
Granted, times were different back then. The American people were blinded by what happened in Pearl Harbor, which suddenly made every Japanese person look like the enemy no matter where they were in the world. Internment camps were set up and thousands of Japanese-Americans were uprooted from their homes and placed in terrible living conditions. We did exactly what the Germans did to the Jews, thankfully without the genocide (we made up for it in Hiroshima). The country looked and thought differently than we do now. We did not foresee regretting our actions in the future.
The word regret is a nice transition into the real question regarding the historical circumstances of Hiroshima and present day America. Should we apologize for our actions?
According to Google, an apology is “a regretful acknowledgement of an offense or failure.” I think it is safe to say that the United States committed human rights violations on a catastrophic scale. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were targeted because of military supply strongholds which probably could have been attacked or dismantled in a less lethal manner. In other words, a coordinated attack with smaller and more controllable weaponry could have saved innocent lives. An atomic bomb makes a big explosion, but it cannot discriminate targets. If you are close, you die.
So what does apologizing even do? In a tangible or visible sense, it means absolutely nothing. An apology is just words. The American people do not even have to apologize themselves. The president can do it for us. Even if some of us truly do not mean the apology, how is Japan going to know the difference? If an apology is just words, why did people take to social media with such anger and fury? Why did Fox News vow to its viewers that they would be on the lookout for “anything that even sounded like an apology?”
Would all Americans lose their hair if the president were to apologize? Would we bleed from all our bodily orifices? Would we contract extreme forms of cancer? Of course not. All that terrible stuff would only happen if a nuclear bomb were to strike close by. An apology is not accompanied by pain, but we Americans are hesitant to say sorry because our egos would take a tumultuous hit. That would just be awful.
Please do not pull the Memorial Day card here. Yes, it was awkward timing, but believe it or not our leaders have actually apologized to the Japanese for World War II crimes in the past. In 1991, on the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor Attacks, President George H.W. Bush apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment in our concentration camps.
Perhaps in the eyes of Americans an apology admits defeat, weakness, or vulnerability. Perhaps Americans just have a hard time admitting mistakes. We have a lot of stains on our history: the near-extinction of Native Americans, slavery, and most-definitely Hiroshima. We all want to believe that the United States is the greatest country in the world, but our country has made mistakes. Our country has some problems and one of them is that our people are in denial. We continue to use the “greatest country in the world” mantra as a veil of ignorance to look past our faults.
There is nothing we can do now to help the people of Hiroshima. It has been seventy-one years. There is no way to replace the damage we have done to Japan. All we can do is ensure that President Obama’s call for a moral revolution is answered. If we allow nuclear weapons to have a place in our future, we will eventually destroy ourselves. Violence is part of human nature and we have given ourselves the ultimate weapon to satisfy that craving. We need to acknowledge this self-destructive need exists and that it could present a species-threatening problem in the future.
Perhaps, we just need to take a second and look back on our mistakes. Acknowledge them. Accept them. Make amends. Move on.