Earth & Conservation

Should The United States Apologize For Hiroshima?

Since 1945, no sitting U.S. president as ever visited Hiroshima until now. So how do the Japanese feel about the bombing?

President Barack Obama's visit to the Japanese city Hiroshima marks a historic occasion between the two countries. It's the first time a sitting American president has visited the city since it was virtually destroyed by a U.S. atomic bomb at the end of World War II.

In today's Seeker Daily dispatch, Jules Suzdaltsev considers the range of Japanese reactions to the bombings, both in the immediate aftermath and today, more than 60 years after the attacks.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki loom large in the annals of world history and our species' collective conscience. For many Americans, the attacks were a devastating but ultimately necessary move to end the war. Japan, naturally, has more complicated feelings.

A brief history: By the summer of 1945, Germany had surrendered, but Allied forces were still locked in a bloody and protracted battle with Japan. Conventional bombing attacks had already killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians, but the island nation refused to surrender.

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U.S. military planners concluded that a ground invasion would result in upwards of one million additional casualties. Instead, the U.S. dropped the first militarily deployed atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, instantly killing tens of thousands of civilians. On Aug. 15, 1945, Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender.

In the aftermath of the bombings, reaction among the Japanese people was surprisingly mixed, said political scientist T.J. Pempel of the University of California, Berkeley.

"The irony was that, very quickly within the first couple months of American occupation and the defeat, most Japanese were relieved that the war was over, that they could move on to some version of a normal life," said Pempel, who has written extensively on Japan's postwar development.

Not everyone felt this way, of course, and more than 50 years later, there are many Japanese who insist that an official apology from the U.S. is very much warranted.

Obama did not issue an apology on his visit, but he spoke at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and met with survivors of the bombings. Obama also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe to discuss banning nuclear weapons worldwide.

"We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them," Obama said. "We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe."

Despite being the only country ever attacked with nuclear weapons, Japan has maintained a strict policy of non-weaponization of nuclear technology. As a major world power, the country is in a unique position to set an example for the rest of the world.

-- Glenn McDonald

Read More:

NPR: In Historic Step, Obama To Visit Hiroshima Later This Month

New York Times: Obama's Visit Raises Ghosts of Hiroshima

History: Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

CBS: 70 Years Ago: Hiroshima and Nagasaki