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"Looking Forward" Comes to Hiroshima

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Never mind an apology, Obama should admit the truth

By David Swanson, TeleSUR

Hiroshima
Hiroshima
(Image by telesurtv.net)
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Since before he entered the White House, Barack Obama has proposed handling past crimes by powerful people and entities through a policy called "looking forward" -- in other words, by ignoring them. While President Obama has targeted whistleblowers with retribution and more prosecutions than his predecessors, deported more immigrants, and kept the lights on in Guantanamo, anyone responsible for war or assassination or torture or lawless imprisonment or most major Wall Street scams (or sharing military secrets with one's mistress) has been given a total pass. Why shouldn't Harry Truman receive the same privilege?

This policy, now being brought to Hiroshima, has been a miserable failure. Wars based on lies to Congress have been displaced by wars without Congress at all. Assassinations and support for coups are open public policy, with Tuesday kill list selections and State Department support for regimes in Honduras, Ukraine, and Brazil. Torture, in the new Washington consensus, is a policy choice with at least one presidential candidate campaigning on making greater use of it. Lawless imprisonment is likewise respectable in the hoped-and-changed world, and Wall Street is doing what it did before.

Obama has carried this policy of "looking forward" backward into the past, prior to his upcoming visit to Hiroshima. "Looking forward" requires only ignoring criminality and responsibility; it permits acknowledging occurrences in the past if one does so with a face that appears regretful and eager to move on. While Obama disagreed with President George W. Bush on Iraq, Bush meant well, or so Obama now says. As did U.S. forces in Vietnam, Obama says. The Korean War was actually a victory, Obama has rather surprisingly announced. "The risk-takers, the doers . . . [who] settled the West" prove "the greatness of our nation." That was how Obama euphemized the North American genocide in his first inaugural address. What might one expect him to say of the romanticized acts of mass-murder in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the Truman regime squeezed in before World War II could end?

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Many peace activists whom I greatly respect have been, along with survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (called Hibakusha), urging Obama to apologize for the nuclear bombings and/or to meet briefly with survivors. I am not opposed to such steps, but rhetoric and photo ops are not what's really needed and can often work against what's really needed. By virtue of his rhetoric and party membership, Obama has been given a pass on his warmaking for over seven years. I'd have preferred he said nothing, made no speeches at all. By virtue of a speech in Prague in which Obama persuaded people that eliminating nukes must take decades, he has been given a pass on massive investment in new nukes, continued first-strike policy, more nukes in Europe, escalated hostility toward Russia, continued noncompliance with the nonproliferation treaty, and dangerous fear mongering around Iran's scary (though nonexistent) nuclear weapons program.

What's needed is not an apology so much as an admission of the facts. When people learn the facts around claims of mountaintop rescues in Iraq, or where ISIS came from, whether Gadaffi was really threatening to massacre and handing out Viagra for rape, whether Iraq really had WMDs or took babies out of incubators, what actually happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, why the USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor, and so forth, then people turn against war. Then they all come to believe that an apology is needed. And they offer apologies on behalf of their government. And they demand a formal apology. This is what should happen for Hiroshima.

I've joined over 50 U.S. signers on a letter drafted by historian Peter Kuznick to be published on May 23rd that asks President Obama to make good use of his visit to Hiroshima by:

  • "Meeting with all Hibakusha who are able to attend
  • Announcing the end of U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion for the new generation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems
  • Reinvigorating nuclear disarmament negotiations to go beyond New START by announcing the unilateral reduction of the deployed U.S. arsenal to 1,000 nuclear weapons or fewer
  • Calling on Russia to join with the United States in convening the 'good faith negotiations' required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for the complete elimination of the world's nuclear arsenals.
  • Reconsidering your refusal to apologize or discuss the history surrounding the A-bombings, which even President Eisenhower, Generals MacArthur, King, Arnold, and LeMay and Admirals Leahy and Nimitz stated were not necessary to end the war."

If President Obama just apologizes, without explaining the facts of the matter, then he'll simply get himself denounced as a traitor without making the U.S. public any less likely to back wars. The need to "discuss the history" is therefore critical.

When asked if Obama would himself have done what Truman did, Obama's spokesman Josh Earnest said: "I think what the president would say is that it's hard to put yourself in that position from the outside. I think what the president does appreciate is that president Truman made this decision for the right reasons. President Truman was focused on the national security interests of the United States, . . . on bringing an end to a terrible war. And president Truman made this decision fully mindful of the likely human toll. I think it's hard to look back and second-guess it too much."

This is quintessential "looking forward." One must not look back and second-guess that someone powerful did something wrong. One should look back and conclude that he had good intentions, thus rendering whatever damage he caused "collateral damage" of those all-absolving good intentions.

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This wouldn't matter so much if people in the United States knew the actual history of what happened to Hiroshima. Here's a recent Reuters article tactfully distinguishing between what people in the United States imagine and what historians understand:

"A majority of Americans see the bombings as having been necessary to end the war and save U.S. and Japanese lives, although many historians question that view. Most Japanese believe they were unjustified."

Reuters goes on to advocate for looking forward:

"Officials in both countries have made clear they want to stress the present and future, not dig into the past, even as the two leaders honor all victims of the war."

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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