65 Years After Hiroshima, Urging Japan to Reflect

Commentators suggest a confrontation with history

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For the first time ever, a U.S. delegation will attend Japan's annual memorial commemorating America's atomic bombing of Hiroshima. U.S. Ambassador John Roos is expected to lay a wreath at the memorial in remembrance of the bomb victims. While the appearance could hold political risks for the Obama administration, it could also strengthen U.S.-Japan relations.

Interestingly, President Obama's latest gesture isn't stirring much outrage among hawkish foreign-policy writers. Instead, what has emerged is a discussion about Japan's need for a more honest assessment of World War II. Warren Kozak at the Wall Street Journal, for instance, says now "may indeed be the right time for our two countries to share this event." However, Japan must face the "inconvenient" truths of the war:

  • Time to Own Up to History writes Kozak: "Since 1945, Japan's narrative has centered almost exclusively on the atomic blasts and its role as victim—with short shrift given to the Japanese invasions of China, Manchuria, Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indochina, Burma, New Guinea and, of course, the attack on Pearl Harbor. Japanese children have learned little about the Rape of Nanking or the fact that as many as 17 million Asians died at the hands of the Japanese in World War II—many in the most brutal ways imaginable. There is also the inconvenient truth that Japan started the war in the first place. There would have been no war in the Pacific between 1937 and 1945 had Japan stayed home. Focusing on the atomic bombs paints the Japanese as victims, like other participants in World War II. They were not."
  • It's Hard for Me to Sympathize with Japanese 'Outrage' Here, writes Bruce McQuain at Questions and Observations: "I have studied the war in detail. I’ve been particularly interested in the planned invasion of Japan... The Japanese people supported the war, cheered the victories and reveled in the spoils it brought. They were brutal and murderous conquerers. And they refused to surrender. After the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Japanese war cabinet of 6 split in their vote, refusing to surrender. After Nagasaki, they still refused to surrender until, in an unprecedented move, the Emperor intervened and essentially ordered them to do so. If those who survived the atomic bombings at Hiroshima feel 'outrage,' they should look in the mirror. They enabled and supported a regime that 'outraged' the world."
  • What's Important Now Is Preventing a Future Nuclear War, writes Clayton Jones at the Christian Science Monitor: "Hiroshima (the attack, not the city) still evokes strong emotions and hot debate over many lingering questions. Was the bombing, along with the one Aug. 9 on Nagasaki, really necessary? Are young Japanese today taught enough about the war’s history to put this event in the context of Japan’s aggression in Asia and its attack on Pearl Harbor? Is warfare on civilians – especially with atomic weapons – ever justified?...For now... the US can help the world recall the effects of an atomic bomb, as Japan has long done, in order to look ahead and try to prevent such military tactics from being used again."

  • Japan Must Avoid the 'Nuclear Umbrella'  James Gibney of The Atlantic responds to a "bracing" op-ed by Japanese Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe. Oe points out the tension between Japan's "moral responsibility" as the "only victim of nuclear bombings" and the willingness of some Japanese to allow nuclear weapons to be transported through Japan "in exchange for American protection." Gibney writes, "I doubt Mr. Oe and I would agree with each other on either the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and the desirability of a truly nuclear-free world. But his insight provides the basis for a more honest discussion about Japan's claims to moral privilege and its strategic future." 
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