THE BLOG

Obama must apologize for his actions at Hiroshima

Today President Barack Obama is taking a day off from his formal schedule at the G7 meeting in Japan to visit Hiroshima. He is first sitting American president to visit the site where an atomic weapon was first employed to horrifying effect. The mainstream media presents this visit as a chance to upgrade the Japan-US relationship in anticipation of closer bilateral cooperation. It is also, no doubt, an excellent photo opportunity for a soon-to-be ex-president who wishes to establish a legacy for himself as a promoter of peace and understanding by having himself photographed in carefully-framed pensive poses.

For the bureaucrats in Washington and Tokyo, the Obama visit to Hiroshima serves as the opening for a three-act play that will highlight close cooperation between the two countries and perhaps give Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a bit of a boost. Act Two of the play will be a carefully synchronized visit by Abe to Pearl Harbor in the near future, at which he will express some form of regret and will be praised by the American corporate media for his thoughtfulness. That visit will set the stage for Act Three, in which the leaders of the two countries, basking in a largely fabricated mood of good will, present a new comprehensive initiative for bilateral cooperation on economic and security issues, probably sometime in the next US administration.

The White House maintains that Obama will not make any apologies on this visit. No doubt he fears criticism from conservative groups in the United States if he makes any statements that suggest there was anything wrong about America's decision to use nuclear weapons.

There are plenty of reasons why an American should apologize when visiting Hiroshima about the decision of the United States government to drop such a terrible bomb, at the time that many members of the Truman administration doubted there was any real need. The consensus among historians is that the primary purpose of the bombing was to send a message to Moscow.

Ultimately, though, this visit is wall to wall politics for an extremely political president. Obama does not have that sort of bravery to say anything significant, and even if he did, his words would not represent the political consensus in Washington D.C. (although he could find a growing disgust among ordinary citizens with American militarism if he bothered to look for it).

But back to our harmonious three-act play. Dig a bit beneath the shiny surface of things and you will find that there are plenty of things for which Barack Obama should apologize during his Hiroshima visit, things that have nothing to do with Harry Truman's tragic decision and everything to do with Obama's fatal expediency at the close of his term.

The grotesque irony of his visit to Hiroshima is clear if you consider his visit to Prague seven years ago, in April of 2009.

He stated in Prague:

"So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, 'Yes, we can.'

Now, let me describe to you the trajectory we need to be on. First, the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same .

Those were the eloquent words of a Harvard graduate and they helped to secure him a premature Nobel Peace Prize after only nine months in office.

Although Obama may be hoping to rekindle some of the glory that he bathed in when, back then, he waxed poetic about a "world without nuclear weapons," any such talk this time will be unadulterated hypocrisy.

What exactly has Obama done about nuclear weapons since then?

A group of seventy scholars recently publicly requested in polite terms that Obama consider saying something about America's current policy of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons under the guise of refurbishing the old ones when at Hiroshima.

Specifically they asked that the United States restart serious nuclear disarmament talks to follow up on the treaty with Russia known as "New START" that was signed in Prague back in 2010.

But those scholars for all their sincerity, avoided speaking too bluntly about Obama's actions in the twilight of his reign.

Not only has the "New START" treaty taken a back seat as the United States rushes to increase its military presence along Russia's borders and in the South China Sea, but the imperative for disarmament which is the core of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has been entirely eclipsed by a new U.S. program to build next-generation nuclear weapons and a panoply of creative delivery systems over the next thirty years.
The manufacture of these new weapons will double the amount of spending on nuclear weapons. 

Obama has fully supported, out of cowardice and incompetence, this trillion-dollar program at a time when 45 million United States citizens live in poverty, at a time when we are facing many trillions of dollars in costs for adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change.

This blatant violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty opens the door wide open for other nations to develop nuclear weapons. Obama is treating possession of nuclear weapons as the privilege of an exclusive club whose members have no obligation to follow the rules themselves. The United States' failure to disarm itself in accordance with article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty is not just unfair; it vastly increases the risk of nuclear war.

Obama's new toy chest will include miniaturized nuclear weapons such as the B61 Model 12. Because such mini nuclear weapons are a tremendous temptation for military commanders to use at the tactical level, they make the transition from a conventional weapon to a multiple nuclear warhead ICBM quite easy, even natural. Escalation from a minor incident to total nuclear war will go from being an unlikely scenario to being a near certainty.

There was a time when American policy makers had a sense of responsibility. They responded to the dangerous arms race of the sixties by signing the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968 and to the arms race of the 1980s by engaging in the negotiations on nuclear weapons that led to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991.

No more. Obama is making no effort to engage China and Russia in treaty talks to limit nuclear weapons and to draw down the American military presence in Asia. Instead, he is overseeing increasingly aggressive military training near the borders of both countries in recent months--or at least he is incapable of controlling those who are doing so. Obama is encouraging reckless actions around the world that are pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Compared with President Richard Nixon's Watergate break-in scandal, Obama's actions today are infinitely more dangerous, more illegal, and could lead to the extinction of humanity. That Obama should apologize for his current actions at Hiroshima goes without saying. The real question is whether he should resign.