Should President Obama Have Apologized at Hiroshima? Part 2

Conspiracy theories abound as to why Truman ordered the bombings. I once heard of a theory that Truman may have been motivated by anti-Asian racism. While there is good evidence to suggest that Truman was racist against Asian people, as well as Jewish and black people, it is a great leap to use this as an explanation for him dropping the bombs. After all, Herbert Hoover lamented that, “the use of the atomic bomb, with its indiscriminate killing of women and children, revolts my soul,” while also calling black and Asian people “lower races” and arguing that the offspring of white-Asian relationships were inferior to both parents. If Hoover’s anti-Asian racism did not affect his view of the bombings, it makes little sense to assume that Truman’s racism affected his decision. Some people believe that in order to prevent Japan from being divided up like Germany, Truman wanted to ensure that the war would end before the Soviet Union entered the Pacific Theater. This position, it must be noted, would mean that there was no conspiracy involved in demanding unconditional surrender, then backpedaling. If Truman wanted to end the war as quickly as possible, it would make little sense to intentionally do anything that might prolong it, including demanding unconditional surrender. Another theory is that the bombings were a display of strength, essentially done to let Stalin know what could happen to Russia if he pushed the United States too far. Ultimately, those wanting to form an opinion on whether bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was necessary militarily will have to consult scholars with more knowledge of World War II military history. I sadly do not have a comprehensive knowledge of the arguments that the bombings were a necessity to win the war, as I am far more of a sociopolitical-intellectual historian than a military one.

Given that the bombings were morally unjustified and of ambiguous military necessity, who, if anyone, should receive an apology? Certainly not the nation of Japan itself. The United States did bear some degree of responsibility for the tensions between the two countries that helped lead to a war, but Japan was far from blameless. Japan engaged in viciously imperialistic behavior in the 1930s and 1940s and attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. And given the Japanese government’s willingness to kill civilians at Pearl Harbor, to say nothing of other atrocities like the Bataan Death March and the Comfort Women Program, there is little doubt that Hirohito would have been happy to order atomic bombs dropped on New York City, Washington, D.C., or San Francisco if given the opportunity. What happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong, but it was different from other American atrocities such as slavery and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans in terms of the context. Instead, the U.S. should apologize to the civilians who were hurt or killed by the 1945 bombings, as well as their descendants, including those still suffering from radiation poisoning. These civilians were not responsible for the actions of their emperor or military, and those actions did not justify harming them. They deserve a heartfelt apology from the United States.


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