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Michael Waldron: Should the United States apologize for Hiroshima?

Published 10:46pm Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Every month since the Niles Daily Star invited guest columnists to submit columns, I’ve been very lucky because something always happened or I read something that suggested a new column for the following month. This month it was a 2009 State Department cable from the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, to Washington that reported the negative attitude of the Japanese government to President Obama’s plan to visit Hiroshima and apologize for dropping an atomic bomb there during World War II. That cable was one of the cables leaked by Julian Assange.
President Obama is a Harvard graduate so I assume he’s intelligent and well-read. Has he read a history of WW II? If he did, he apparently skipped over the part about the Japanese conduct of the war especially in the final stages of that war. My father, Charles Waldron, fought on Iwo Jima. He tells me that the Japanese refused to surrender. They had to be blown out or burned out of the caves that exist all over that island. I believe him. Of the approximately 20,000 Japanese troops on Iwo Jima when the U.S. invaded, only a few hundred survived the battle. A similar outcome occurred later on Okinawa. Also during the battle of Okinawa, the suicidal Kamikaze attacks began. There was no indication that an attack on the Japanese mainland would be any different. Military planners predicted hundreds of thousands of American casualties and millions of Japanese casualties if we invaded the Japanese home islands.
Now suppose history was different. Suppose that the American government had an atomic weapon but refused to employ it. What would have happened? Would the Japanese have surrendered? Remember it took two atomic bombs to finally convince the Japanese government that there was no other course other than surrender except annihilation. Could we have demonstrated the atomic bomb? We could have exploded a bomb on a remote piece of Japanese territory. That might or might not have convinced the Japanese that we had a new, terrible weapon.  It might not have silenced skeptics who thought it was a trick.  Even after two Japanese cities disappeared, some in the Japanese Army wanted to fight on.
In the final analysis, a demonstration would not have demonstrated American willingness to use it where it would do the most damage.  In an ironic twist, Joseph Stalin remembered that President Truman had used the atomic bomb.  That may have prevented a WW III in the aftermath of WW II. The Japanese certainly had no doubts about American willingness to use this new weapon.
One could say that the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki died for the sins of the Japanese military junta that caused Japan to attack China, Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, and the United States. They also were the final deaths the Japanese had to endure. How many more would have died in an invasion?  The misery of the average Japanese citizen is hard to imagine in that case.  What would have happened to the Emperor? My guess is that he would have died in battle or committed suicide. If captured, he would have been hung like General Tojo.  Japan would probably be a republic today.
Now what would have happened to President Truman in the aftermath of an invasion of Japan? I guess that he would have been impeached and vilified except in the halls of some Ivy-covered universities and in some religious organizations. I would be one of those who would spit on his memory if my father had been a casualty because President Truman had not ordered the two atomic attacks in 1945.  As it happened, I’m rather partial to President Truman because I was born nine months after the war ended and my parents got married (my daughter recommended that I add that those two events happened two weeks apart).
Now that I’ve established historical and personal reasons for questioning President Obama’s intention to apologize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I can only hope that he has gained wisdom since August 2009.  I wonder why he felt the need to apologize for the United States.  The United States would be right to apologize for slavery, for its treatment of native Americans, for the Spanish American War, for the internment of Japanese-Americans (although there is a counter-argument to that apology), and for some of its actions during the Cold War when we supported dictators because they were anti-communist (many Greeks haven’t forgiven us for supporting the Colonels’ junta in the 1970s).  While we’re at it, I think we should also apologize for Roseanne Barr.
The United States has been completely unselfish at other times.  There are valid reasons that some of our best allies are the Japanese.  The Japanese don’t hate us, and the Japanese government discouraged President Obama’s apology!
On balance, I don’t believe we need to apologize for much beyond what I stated above.  The White House has denied that President Obama intended to apologize; however, I’ve read Ambassador Roos’ cable on Wikileaks and I don’t believe the White House denial.
The question then becomes why does President Obama have such a long list of apologies.  Dinesh D’Souza wrote a book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” in which he states President Obama shares many attitudes of the anti-colonial, third world.  Certainly President Obama’s ex-pastor, Jeremiah Wright, possesses anti-American attitudes. D’Souza’s theories and the crazy quotes from President Obama’s ex-pastor aren’t enough to explain President Obama’s thinking.  I really hope some reporter asks President Obama to explain why we should apologize for Hiroshima.  His answer might tell us important things about President Obama’s view of this country and its history.

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