The United States government has difficulty expressing regret. Washington has never expressed official regret for slavery or for the destruction of Native Americans. Neither has our government expressed remorse for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These bombings killed about 200,000 human beings, the great majority of whom were civilians. Neither city was an important military target.
President Obama has indicated that he will visit Hiroshima in the near future. Astonishingly, Obama's visit is controversial in the United States. Many Americans believe that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki shortened World War Two and were therefore justified. There is ample evidence against this belief. Moreover, international law clearly states that shortening a war does not justify killing civilians.
Numerous Japanese cities had been fire bombed prior to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tokyo was fire bombed on March 9 and 10, 1945, causing even more casualties than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Yet none of these devastating attacks induced Japan to surrender. Post-war surveys indicate that the naval blockade weakened Japan far more than the bombing of urban areas. The Soviet Union entered the war against Japan two days after the Hiroshima bombing and swiftly moved down the coastal regions of China where many Japanese troops were located. Most Japanese historians regard the Soviet offensive as the decisive factor making Japan surrender.
President Truman claimed that the atomic bombings avoided the necessity of invading Japan which, he said, would cause a million American deaths. Most prominent United States military leaders dispute this claim. Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Chester Nimitz and even that obsessive bomber Curtis LeMay stated that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unnecessary and unrelated to the Japanese surrender.
Some contemporary historians, such as Gar Alperovitz, regard the nuclear attacks upon Japan as the first American shots in the Cold War. Their real purpose was intimidating the Soviet Union, the country which actually played the major military role in defeating Nazi Germany. The fact that the U.S. really used atomic bombs made nuclear weapons far more difficult to control. Within five years, the Soviet Union had constructed nuclear weapons of its own. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union proceeded to develop even more destructive nuclear fusion bombs. Nine countries currently possess nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, France, England, China, India, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. Something like 10,000 deployable nuclear weapons exist.
President Obama should definitely visit Hiroshima. He should also express deep and sincere regret about the two atomic bombings. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were certainly crimes against humanity, and they have placed the whole of human society in continuing peril.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.