Tomorrow, August 6, marks the 65th anniversary of the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. On that day, and in the coming weeks and months as a result of the ensuing fire and radiation, 140,000 Japanese civilians died. An additional 80,000 would perish in Nagasaki, when three days later the US dropped another nuclear weapon there.
But body count and civilian status aside, these two events in 1945 sparked a terrifying arms race spanning over four decades, the consequences of which we are still dealing with today. And for the first time ever, the United States will send an official delegation, led by US Ambassador to Japan John Roos, to the memorial tomorrow.
Though Japan and the US have come a long way in bilateral relations since World War II, there are still some in Japan who feel they are owed, at the very least, an apology by the US government. Says one elderly Japanese woman, quoted in this article:
"Americans think that the bombing was reasonable because it speeded up the end of the war. They try to see it in a positive way," Naomi Sawa, a 69-year-old former teacher, said after paying her respects to the dead. "But we were devastated."
Sixty-five years later, and despite the progress our two nations have made, there are still people in Japan who believe that the US was justified in the use of the bomb, and that all American citizens to this day still think President Truman made the right decision.
Of course, that's not a universal truth. And I see a clear parallel between this set of circumstances and that surrounding the current controversy in New York, as plans proceed to build a large mosque and cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero.
One warm September morning nearly a decade ago, our resolve as a nation was tested, and we rallied. Our commander-in-chief swore to "take the fight to the enemy." But he was also rational: President Bush stated, time and again, that "the enemy" was not Islam as a religion, nor the billions of Muslims worldwide who adhere to the faith in all its forms. No, the real enemy of America was the group of twisted militant radicals who had usurped Islam for their selfish, warped cause.
Indeed, for moderate Muslims worldwide and especially for American Muslims, the enemy of America also was and always has been the enemy of Islam.
Yet, nearly a decade later, more and more honest, well-intentioned Americans are forgetting President Bush's pleas: that moderate, accepting, pluralist interpretations of Islam -- as practiced by the millions of Muslims living in the US -- are America's biggest ally in the war on terror. And nowhere is this mindlessness more evident than in the protests over the Cordoba House proposal in New York City.
Never mind that the proposed mosque location is a full two blocks away from the World Trade Center site -- a site which, in this writer's opinion, should be preserved as an eternal, non-denominational memorial to the lives lost on that tragic day in 2001. Never mind that it is not just a mosque, but an interfaith, cultural and community center with a proposed fitness center, swimming pool and performing arts space.
No, the real issue I take with the entire matter is that the group of Muslims and supporters that plans on building this center represents precisely that flavor of Islam that is America's biggest ally: an Islam that is moderate, open, accepting, peaceful, outspoken against terrorism in the name of Islam, and American in the truest sense (see this Time Magazine article here).
And inflammatory personalities like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin are only making matters worse. Of course, they have the right to freedom of speech, but liberty should never be equated to license. They're only serving to further stoke the anti-Muslim fire that, unfortunately, is growing and spreading more and more each day.
With all that said, these sorts of reactions are to be expected. After all, it hasn't been a full 10 years yet since 9/11, and we as a nation are still struggling with the demons that haunt us, as well as trying to find a better, more peaceful path forward. It has been 65 years since Hiroshima, and yet many Japanese believe that not only was the US in the wrong, but that all Americans to this day still believe we did the right thing by dropping two nuclear weapons on Japan. That simply is not true. Many in the US, and especially those most intimate with America's secret weapons program in the 1940s, have regretted President Truman's decision -- not only because the destructive power of the nuclear bomb was unleashed upon innocent civilians, but also because of the ensuing arms race it sparked.
We are still struggling with those demons as well. But what Americans need to do, now more than ever, is start thinking for themselves again. Listen to what someone like Sarah Palin says -- and then ask yourself if you would come to the same conclusion anyway. Is it really "against common moral sense," as she says, to build an open, moderate Islamic mosque two blocks from Ground Zero? Would we really be up in arms if a church were being proposed? Or a synagogue? Or, for that matter, a Hindu mandir or Buddhist temple? Most likely not.
Remember now, more than ever, that we are American in our values. We uphold freedom and liberty more than anything else. It is precisely our adherence to and defense of these values that have made us a strong, robust, diverse and resilient nation.
Let us not forget who we are.