August 6th marked the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. For the first time since the end of World War II, an American representative attended the official commemoration ceremony of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. President Obama sent U.S. Ambassador John Roos to “express respect for all the victims of World War II” – a benign sounding olive branch that was designed to convey empathy to the Japanese. This is consistent with Obama’s desire to “reset” American diplomacy by showing the world that America is not the global bully of the past. Unfortunately, compassion in the absence of context can be meaningful -- in unintended ways. Sending the U.S. Ambassador to the Hiroshima ceremony as an act of “respect” provides fuel to the revisionist case that the U.S. was wrong to drop the atomic bomb on Japan on August 6, 1945, and plays into the hands of those who now increasingly believe that America was the aggressor in the Pacific War. Even actor Tom Hanks – the Executive Producer of the HBO mini-series “The Pacific”, referred in a recent interview to the war against Japan as one of “racism and terror” on both sides, and that the U.S. wanted to annihilate the Japanese simply because “they were different”.
Hanks comments essentially reflect what is fast becoming a lost history among newer generations – particularly as taught by left-wing academics and reported by the left-leaning media. The reality is that the Japanese war machine was ferocious, fanatical and fought to the death in every major naval and land engagement of the Pacific war. At the battle for Okinawa in 1945 – the last major land battle of the war when the Japanese empire knew that defeat was inevitable – some 12,000 American soldiers and marines were killed in brutal cave-to-cave fighting that left over 100,000 Japanese soldiers dead. Only 7,000 soldiers surrendered to U.S. forces. At sea in Iron Bottom Sound, Okinawa saw the deaths of almost 5,000 navy personnel and the sinking of more than 30 American ships – many at the hands of over 1,500 Japanese suicide “Kamikaze” attacks. Even more disturbing, the Japanese military actively encouraged the Okinawa civilian population to commit mass suicide rather than be captured by U.S. forces. Over 100,000 Okinawan civilians are believed to have died during the two month battle.
It was this experience that colored the thinking of President Truman and the American military as they approached the events of August 1945. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki avoided tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of casualties that were virtually certain in an invasion of the Japanese home islands.
The presence of Ambassador Roos at Hiroshima neglects a very important context which the left tends to routinely ignore: Japan was an expansionist imperial power that brutally invaded China and South Asia and attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor without provocation. By offering respect for “all victims”, Roos gives rise to a moral equivalency of responsibility which only further removes history from the discussion, and will in time lead to more strident requests for a formal U.S. apology – something this administration may be quite predisposed to do.
This anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing was a missed opportunity for one of Barack Obama’s “teachable moments”; but rather than being something for America to apologize for, it should provide the basis for an honest discussion of Japan’s actions during the Second World War. Doing so would put the U.S. decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan in its proper light: as a wise and prudent choice that spared innocent lives on both sides.