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Why Obama didn't apologize for Hiroshima
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 01 - 06 - 2016

I personally expected and hoped that US President Barack Obama during his recent visit to Japan would apologize for the horrendous act of dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were killed within seconds when the first nuclear attack in history was carried out on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki after a gap of three days in August 1945. Many of those who survived died later from nuclear radiation.
My expectations were based on a number of factors pertaining to Obama's style of functioning. Firstly, ever since assuming power as president of the United States, Obama repeatedly has said that his first mission was to ease tensions and not inflame them. Secondly, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize during the first tenure of his presidency. Along with the award came a moral responsibility to work for averting war and to exert efforts to bring peace. Thirdly, he worked hard to normalize relations with Cuba that culminated in ending a six-decade long embargo on that neighboring nation. Finally, my expectations were pinned on the historic fact that using the atomic bomb on Japan at the end of the war was not at all inevitable. By that time, Germany had surrendered and the US-led allies were about to be victorious.
The then British prime minister Winston Churchill mentioned this in his "Memoirs of the Second World War." He wrote that an atomic bomb was not necessary to defeat Japan. He was of the view that the bombs were excessively destructive and unnecessary to win the war. By the summer of 1945, Japan had already lost the war and the American government knew it. The US Navy had established a tight blockade of Japan that cut off the
delivery of any raw materials. Allied bombers conducted regular raids on Japan without meeting resistance. Allied forces had brutally damaged Tokyo. All of this activity had been accomplished without an atomic bomb.
Churchill argued that Japan's defeat was certain before the first bomb fell. US military leaders were well aware that Japan was nearing defeat.
There is no doubt that Obama's recent visit to Hiroshima where he placed a floral wreath at the Peace Memorial Park was a great step that had never been done by any US president while in office. Obama then paid tribute to the people of Hiroshima, calling on humanity to learn the lessons of the past to make war less likely.
"On a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed," he said, adding that humankind had shown that day that it had the means to destroy itself. "Why did we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in the not so distant past. We come to mourn the dead," he said. Those perished in the disaster included more than 100,000 Japanese men, women and children and thousands of Koreans plus 10 American citizens.
Obama also underscored the need to rid the world of nuclear weapons, the highest number of which is possessed by his own country. He said: "So nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them. We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe." During his visit to the Hiroshima museum, Obama wrote in the guestbook: "We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons."
The visit of Obama, his meeting with many survivors of the US bombing, especially the moment when he embraced one of them, as well as his words and what he wrote in the museum guestbook was extremely touching. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the historic visit had opened a new chapter in the rapprochement between the US and Japan. Abe described Obama's visit as "courageous", saying: "An American president has come into contact with the reality of an atomic bombing and renewed his resolve toward realizing a world without nuclear weapons."
All of this was instrumental in creating a mixed feeling of satisfaction and a somber mood among the Japanese public who do not like to speak either about the atomic bombs or about the victims of the atomic bombing. They considered the visit of Obama as almost tantamount to an apology even though he did not make any explicit apology. Political observers in analyzing the factors that prevented Obama from tendering an apology said that the most significant among them was the forthcoming presidential elections in the United States. Had Obama offered a formal apology, it would have been misused by the opposition Republican Party and thus would have adversely affected the prospects of the Democratic Party candidate.
Some Americans still believe that dropping atomic bombs on Japan was essential to bringing an end to the Second World War and that it saved the lives of one million US troops and almost half a million British soldiers.
I still recall that during my visit to Hiroshima, I asked some Japanese people to air their views and comments about what had befallen their city. Their reply was that they did not want to talk about it and that all that they wanted was that such a disaster should never be repeated in any part of the world.
— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at [email protected]


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