“I will never apologize for the United States – I don’t care what the facts are.”
George H.W. Bush
President Obama went to Hiroshima recently and some people were clamoring for an apology to the city or the Japanese people for the dropping of the atomic bomb(s) in August 1945. An individual quoted in the New York Times was quoted as saying that “an apology by the president ‘would set the tone of reconciliation that all nations can respond to.'”
In the same article, another person said that Obama could “lament the damage caused by the atomic bombs without apologizing for their use.” A third person said that the president shouldn’t apologize for the bombs because the bombs “saved lives by avoiding a [total war] military invasion of Japan.”
A fourth opinion suggested that Obama use his speech to get the Japanese to confront their troubled legacy from World War 2 and their atrocities in Korea and China. A fifth person suggested that since Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for advocating the reduction of nuclear weapons, he should announce his veto of a previously approved plan to spend $1 trillion on improving our nuclear arsenal.
When Obama gave his speech at Hiroshima, he said about the victims:
“Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become… How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to the [truth that science allows us to bend nature to our will]? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause… Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well… Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering [as at Hiroshima]. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”
Please read the whole speech here: Click here.
Some things to think about:
– Does America have a moral obligation to lead the way with nuclear weapons since we were the only country to use them on a population?
– Would an apology open up the door to Japan asking for reparations for the bombing?
– Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized for his country’s treatment of Native Canadians in the past. An apology “doesn’t cost anything… Has no effect on policy. It was just the nice thing to do.”
– America has apologized to Japanese Americans for their internment, to Rwanda for not getting involved in their genocide. But there are many, many things that America (the president, Congress) has NOT apologized for.
– Americans have been worshipping our war heroes, but the nuclear bombs makes it seem like they might have done something wrong.
– Japan hasn’t apologized for Pearl Harbor, but are the two acts comparable?
– It seems that liberals want to be transparent, self-critical, and ask “are we living up to our values?” Conservatives stress national strength and unity, they want to instill pride, and remember the great things that we have done as a country.
1. Read over Obama’s speech. Do you think he apologized for the atomic bombings? Why or why not?
2. Using the “things to think about” section, which of these comments resonates with you the most? Explain.
3. Which of the five opinions from the New York Times article fits best with your own views on this issue? Why?
300 words minimum. Due by Thursday, June 9 by class.
Check it out.
Also, a link to the wesbite for the film on the Zoot Suit Riots. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/zoot/index.html
A link about the Detroit riot in 1943 – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/eleanor-riots/
Articles on Japanese internment – http://www.pbs.org/childofcamp/history/
A few pages about working women during WW2 – http://www.nps.gov/pwro/collection/website/rosie.htm
A lot of second guessing has gone into America’s use of atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, even starting with former general and future president Dwight Eisenhower in 1948 who did not want America to be the first to use nuclear weapons.
According to the previous article in Portrait of America, “The Biggest Decision: Why We Had to Drop the Atomic Bomb” by Robert J. Maddox, the author worked on disspelling some of the myths that have popped up since 1945. The generals may have overestimated the Allied casualties, but the June 8 meeting with Truman stated that General George Marshall estimated that only 31,000 casualties would be inflicted during the invasion of Kyushu (Operation Olympic). What intelligence sources had discovered in the days before Hiroshima, the Japanese Imperial Command had correctly guessed what the Allies were planning and had reinforced Kyushu with over 500,000 (actually over 900,000 but the Allies didn’t know that at the time).
So, logic follows that Truman made the decision to drop the bomb in order to spare more lives, mainly American lives, from a costly invasion.
But did Truman drop the bombs to intimidate the Soviets? The war in Europe was over, and critics have claimed that the U.S. was trying to get the Soviets to either withdraw from Eastern Europe or at least be more open to agreeing with U.S. demands. However, Stalin was given the info about the success of the Trinity test (from spies) and therefore knew about the atomic bomb. Whether or not he felt intimidated was not recorded.
Another sticking point was whether Japan was ready to surrender. According to the Maddox article, Japan had sent peace feelers out through the Soviets but some members of the Japanese government (those with the power) wanted to continue fighting to protect Emperor Hirohito from prosecution of war crimes. What role he played has been (and still is) debated, but the military could see the writing on the wall with the prosecutions beginning in Germany after the discovery of the concentration camps. Would the emperor be retained as part of the Allies sticking to unconditional surrender terms? Or, as Truman had mentioned, would they soften on this one sticking point in order to end the war earlier to save hundreds of thousands of lives? The problem with interpreting the signals sent by the Japanese government at this time is that it sent mixed signals depending upon who was being asked. If it was a military officer, he was willing to fight to the end. If it was a politician, some kind of compromise was possible by the summer of 1945.
Furthermore, what would have happened to the Allied prisoners of war captured by the Japanese scattered throughout Asia if the Allies had invaded Japan in November 1945? Chances are, they might have been killed or tortured so they wouldn’t be of any use to an invading Allied army.
Is it possible to judge an historical era from 70 yrs later, especially one so fraught with controversy since the 1994 Smithsonian exhibit? See links below:
Your job: examine at least 2 of the issues discussed in the blog (things Truman probably had on his mind when weighing the decision to drop the bomb), and use/reference at least two of the documents in the handout I gave you today (Wed. May 11). What would you have advised President Truman do under these circumstances? Why?
Due Thursday, May 12. 250 words.