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Reflecting on Hiroshima

07.28.16 08:15 PM – Andy McDonald

Some months back when President Obama visited Japan to mark the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, there was a surprising amount of rancor from some Americans.

For Obama to go to Hiroshima, it was argued, was to implicitly apologize for America’s attempts to end a conflict it did not start. Other critics suggested that to memorialize all combatants who died in World War II, including our former enemies, somehow diminished the sacrifice of American servicemen and dishonored members of the Allied forces who gave their lives for freedom.

Protected by the anonymity of the Internet, some suggested Japan got what it deserved at Hiroshima, and that dropping a nuclear weapon was justifiable payback for Pearl Harbor and for other war atrocities inflicted at the hands of Japanese forces.

Reflecting on another anniversary of the Hiroshima attack, I think President Obama did the right thing in making a historic visit to Hiroshima. Since the end of World War II, Japan has been a staunch ally and trading partner, and it is not inconsistent to believe that the United States did what it had to do to shorten the war and save millions of lives – both American and Japanese – but at the same time to express deep regret that America had to resort to using such an awful weapon. Nor was it wrong to acknowledge the tragedy that so many Japanese civilians suffered and died horribly in that attack.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt boldly asserted that the American people in their righteous might would win through to absolute victory. Americans like to think that ours is a righteous nation, and that in defending our country, we are more
often than not just in the deployment of our might.

That’s precisely why President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima was so important. If the United States of America aspires to be just, we must never stop questioning whether the methods of our armed forces are as humane and just as possible. Carefully pondering the use of the fearsome technology at our disposal is especially important today as methods for killing human beings becomes increasingly efficient and sanitary.

We live in a world where killing combatants on the other side of the globe is an easy proposition. A drone pilot sitting at a console at an American Air Force base can wipe out an enemy somewhere in the Middle East like it’s nothing more than a computer game, then be home in time to watch the evening news. That is war in 2016. We’re still killing people, but news of killing in some faraway land has been relegated to background noise. It has become entirely incidental to our everyday lives as Americans. Should some enemies be killed to safeguard the United States? Regrettably, yes. But we should be diligent in questioning whether our methods are causing us to lose our humanity.

To be sure, the Obama Administration hasn’t been shy about ordering drone attacks, and the president’s message about a world without nuclear weapons seems doubtful in today’s international climate. Yet President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima was right and important because America should pause and reflect on past decisions to employ deadly force to insure that our might is, in fact, as righteous as possible. If we don’t reflect, and if killing becomes as casual to us as it is to some of our enemies, then we will have forgotten who we are. And that, perhaps more than anything else, would gravely dishonor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country.

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