Veterans worry visit will whitewash Japanese horrors, American sacrifices.
President Obama’s upcoming trip to the site of the first atomic blast — whether he calls it an apology tour or not — is provoking a negative reaction from the dwindling generation of American veterans who fought in World War II.
Jan Thompson, president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, wrote to Obama in April, urging him not to visit Hiroshima.
“This is a classic abuse of history, kind of rewriting the past to please the present.”
“Specifically, my members who are former POWs [prisoners of war] of Japan, their families, and historians want to see you break ground for a memorial to the American POWs at their port of entry and slavery into Japan, the dock at Moji on Kyushu,” wrote Thompson, the daughter of a U.S. sailor who was held in the Philippines and later sent to Mukden in northern China.
Thompson added that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration have been working to replace the country’s history of abuses during the war with “a denier’s view.” She argued that Obama’s visit must include strong acknowledgment of Japan’s victims. Otherwise, she wrote, “your visit will not merely be unreciprocated — it will sanction the Abe administration’s anti-historical efforts and abrogate your mission, which is to remind us all what we are capable of, both good and bad.”
The White House has insisted that Obama will not apologize for President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the “Little Boy” atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and then another bomb on Nagasaki three days later. But critics fear that is how it will be interpreted. Jay Carafano, director of the Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation, ridiculed the notion Thursday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that Obama has to go to Hiroshima to alert people to the dangers of nuclear weapons.
“This is a classic abuse of history, kind of rewriting the past to please the present,” he said.
Carafano said the decision to drop the atomic bombs needs to be viewed in context. The Japanese Imperial Army engaged in brutal practices, including cannibalism, he said. Plus, he added, the bombs ultimately saved millions of lives — and not just Americans.
“What never gets discussed in this is by bringing a premature end to the war, the United States actually saved millions of Japanese lives,” he said. “And we wouldn’t have the Japan we have today … People forget that legacy.”
The president’s visit comes amid creeping self-doubt in the United States about the morality of using atomic weapons to end the war with Japan. In the immediate aftermath of that decision in 1945, according to Gallup, 85 percent of Americans supported the decision.
The last time the polling company asked the question, in 2005, that figure had dropped to 57 percent. The poll also detected an age divide. Among those older than 50, 63 percent supported the decision. Among those who were younger — too young to recall the devastating toll the war had taken on America — support for the bombing was just 53 percent.
It is not just World War II veterans who have expressed misgivings, however. When Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) posted a speech on his Facebook page last month urging Obama to visit Hiroshima, a number of commenters blasted the idea. Trisan SchwÃ¤rgen wrote that, “The Japanese had no intent to surrender and willing to fight to the last man as such the nuke was the best option.” Dereck Kessler wrote, “Japan shouldn’t have bombed Pearl Harbor. Don’t start a fight you ain’t sure you can win. And they were allied with Nazis. Wonder if they won the war. Would Japan or Germany apologize to anyone?”
Obama’s Hiroshima trip is not merely part of a farewell tour by a president in his last year in office. There are indications that a Hiroshima visit has been on the Obama radar from the early days of his administration. WikiLeaks in 2011 published a diplomatic cable in 2009 from the U.S. ambassador to Japan discussing the idea.
Then-Ambassador John Roos, in a communication to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton titled “POTUS VISIT TO JAPAN: TOO EARLY FOR HIROSHIMA VISIT,” relayed that Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka had cautioned that both governments must “temper the public’s expectations” and that “the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘non-starter.'”
Although a visit that year would be premature, Roos reported, at some point a “simple visit to Hiroshima without fanfare is sufficiently symbolic to convey the right message.”