Hoisted from Comments: “Obama’s Hiroshima Visit Is Shaping Up To Be a PR Disaster”

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For those of you who do not consume Naked Capitalism regularly, Clive is an IT professional and our resident Japanophile.

From comments yesterday:

May 12, 2016 at 9:23 am

Clive and Yves: Now, if we go with a corollary to Yves Smith’s Law,* That every challenge to the Obama Administration is met with more propaganda, is it possible that this whole Hiroshima visit is to get Obama’s “legacy” of the TTIP through the Japanese Diet? I have had doubts for some time that Obama has a moral compass, but I’m starting to get a whiff of Great Moral Leader wants trade deal so he heads to an area of Japanese emotional vulnerability.

Next, he’ll be attempting to quote Murasaki Shikibu.

May 12, 2016 at 9:44 am

I think this may have been the intention (getting the TPP some positive “transformative” vibe). But if that was ever the idea, Obama chickened out and blew it.

* * * *

May 12, 2016 at 9:39 am

The Japanese language press is being quite pointed in making it clear that Obama is refusing to move the U.S.’s established position on the nuclear weapons use in Japan at the end of WWII. The Asahi Shimbun’s coverage http://www.asahi.com/articles/ASJ5D21T6J5DUHBI005.html has a perceptible sneer in it’s tone in describing Obama’s “address” at Hiroshima (the article used the Japanese language equivalent of inverted commas) in the headline.

It doesn’t quite say “Obama’s coming to Hiroshima and bringing nothing other than tea and sympathy” but this is what a reader in Japan is most likely to take away from reading the piece. No major speech and — this was drawn attention to specifically — no meeting with the hibaku-sha (Japanese A-bomb survivors). Just some flowers and a “looking back” (according to White House Press Spokesman Josh Earnest) at the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The feature goes on to say that Obama was unable to make any statement which might be construed as an apology because of “deep rooted” domestic U.S. opinion on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. I can’t quite tell whether the Asahi article is doing one of two things. Either it is trying to paint Obama as a feeble spent force, lacking leadership in his failure to even try to move U.S. public opinion (the Japanese would then see Obama as being a weak figure, not possessing any authority to be able to even try to change the U.S. population’s viewpoint). Or, the Asahi is conjuring up the well-worn (in Japan, anyway) cliché that Americans are a bunch of entrenched thoughtless ignoramuses incapable of entertaining any ideas which challenge preconceptions. A kind-of burger-eating Dothraki, Cadillac-driving rather than horse-riding, who cling to unsubstantiated thought forms needing no more justification than adding “it is known” after uttering them.

Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Whichever, neither Obama nor the U.S. comes out well from this debacle. If it’s just Obama whose reputation is being trashed, well, who cares. It’s about time the world saw through his flimflam. The people of the U.S. though, when taken as a whole, deserve a bit better than that.

Perhaps I’ll reserve judgement until after the event, but so far, Obama’s Hiroshima visit is shaping up to be a PR disaster, at least as far as the Japanese language media is concerned. He’s managed to underwhelm fairly conservative outlets like the Asahi. Less restrained media will be even more critical. If he can’t do any better than this, Obama would serve both his own — and U.S. — interests better by staying at home.

And isn’t this just so typical of Obama ? Wanting to make the big gesture, play the master statesman, getting everyone to seriously think he’ll do something radical — but in the final analysis ending up nothing more than doing a tacky photo-op. Hello Kitty does the nuclear holocaust legacy tourist trail.

* The precise formulation is: “Obama believes that every problem can be solved with better propaganda.”

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  1. Paper Mac

    It’s hard to imagine Abe deciding to Look Back in a similar manner in Nanjing. It’s a weird move to make if no clear official purpose is being served by the visit. Is Hiroshima a sideshow to the TTIP visit? Obama just wanted to look? One Yankee Sky Pirate wants to examine the handiwork of another?

    You’d think someone at the State dept could call a friend at Asahi shimbun and ask how well a Casual Reflection On Past Events With Obama would go over in Hiroshima and realise the answer was “probably not too good”?

  2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    The man has a pathological need to stroke himself while he gazes at his own reaction in a mirror, he wouldn’t even know if the world saw through him as an empty suit who did nothing for the country except cement Bush’s hated policies in place across the board. Self-licking ice cream, don’t get any on Michelle’s Chanel suit. I thought my revulsion had limits but it seems to expand continually, he spend tens of millions to boondoggle out to Japan (maybe Michelle needed to do some shopping) while moving ahead with tens of billions of new $ for new nukes.

    1. Pavel

      “Boondoggle Obama” should be his new name. Sums up his entire political career. The Obama family certainly seems to be living it up — I’m not a miser but I recall multiple Air Force One trips (each costing a few million dollars) to and fro Hawai’i (to be politically correct :). I think there should be a simple rule: until there is a balanced budget, no president shall take any holiday except to Camp David.

      As for the topic at hand: I spend a fair amount of time in Japan myself (not as much as Clive). An old and very wise friend, well connected with governments (they come and go there) and business leaders, once brought up Hiroshima. He said most Japanese don’t make a point of it with Americans, but they never forget what transpired.

      Of course the Japanese have ample blood on their hands over the centuries, and as noted above the UK’s firebombing of German cities was another dreadful war crime. But the actual use of nuclear weapons on civilian targets… OMG.

      For those who continue to argue that the bombing was “necessary” or “saved hundreds of thousands of [US] lives” I recommend this article from CounterPunch written on the 66th anniversary of the bombings:

      Today is the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Though most Americans are unaware of the fact, increasing numbers of historians now recognize the United States did not need to use the atomic bomb to end the war against Japan in 1945. Moreover, this essential judgment was expressed by the vast majority of top American military leaders in all three services in the years after the war ended: Army, Navy and Army Air Force. Nor was this the judgment of “liberals,” as is sometimes thought today. In fact, leading conservatives were far more outspoken in challenging the decision as unjustified and immoral than American liberals in the years following World War II.

      By the summer of 1945 Japan was essentially defeated, its navy at the bottom of the ocean; its air force limited by fuel, equipment, and other shortages; its army facing defeat on all fronts; and its cities subjected to bombing that was all but impossible to challenge…

      The most illuminating perspective, however, comes from top World War II American military leaders. The conventional wisdom that the atomic bomb saved a million lives is so widespread that (quite apart from the inaccuracy of this figure, as noted by Samuel Walker) most Americans haven’t paused to ponder something rather striking to anyone seriously concerned with the issue: Not only did most top U.S. military leaders think the bombings were unnecessary and unjustified, many were morally offended by what they regarded as the unnecessary destruction of Japanese cities and what were essentially noncombat populations. Moreover, they spoke about it quite openly and publicly.

      Here is how General Dwight D. Eisenhower reports he reacted when he was told by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson that the atomic bomb would be used:

      “During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.”

      In another public statement the man who later became President of the United States was blunt: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”

      General Curtis LeMay, the tough cigar-smoking Army Air Force “hawk,” was also dismayed. Shortly after the bombings he stated publically: “The war would have been over in two weeks. . . . The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”

      Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, went public with this statement: “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace. . . . The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.”

      CounterPunch: The Decision to Bomb Hiroshima by GAR ALPEROVITZ

      About the article’s author:

      Gar Alperovitz, Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative, is a historian and political economist. He is the author, most recently, of America Beyond Capitalism and (with Lew Daly) Unjust Deserts. His work on the history of the decision to use the atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki spans over four decades; his 1995 book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb remains one of the definitive accounts of the actions and motivations of the US in the last, tragic chapter of WWII.

        1. Pavel

          As I noted, the Japanese have plenty of blood and atrocities on their hands.

          However the use of nuclear weapons is to my mind an order of magnitude worse than anything they did. YMMV as the programmers used to say.

          And of course the Americans have plenty of non-nuclear blood on their hands — just look at the genocide of the native American tribes, barely discussed in any high school history textbook!

          1. Praedor

            AND…no matter how you slice it, intentional targeting of civilians is a war crime. No actions by the Japanese government or military provides justification to annihilate civilians wholesale: elderly, children, hospitals, schools. ALL specifically and knowingly targeted for full annihilation.

            The bombs were entirely a political decision. Some in the military (LEMAY) wanted to test out a new toy in an operational setting. The US government also wanted to send a message (warning) to the Soviets. Japan was the site of the message.

            As for the previous fire bombings of Japanese cities, I do not know if that was FULLY intentional or simply the outcome of bombing cities made up of lots of wood and rice paper. ANY bombings would light it off.

            1. cassandra

              Bomber Harris’ bombing of Dresden and the conflagration of Hamburg did indeed casue a bit of sticky-wicket at the Nuremberg trials,

        2. cassandra

          What a stupid, I mean clever, propagandistic distraction. Providing historical context for an atrocity provides just that, not absolution. This implied argument parsed out is what you’d expect from children trying to blame a fight on each other, not from someone with adult ethics. Not that the meme doesn’t have a certain infantile appeal.

      1. Samuel Conner

        Perhaps rather than “until budget is balanced”, better would be “until full employment is achieved and the output gap is closed”.

      2. John Wright

        I remember reading that part of the push for dropping the A bombs on Japan was as a message to the Soviets to let them know the USA had this superior weapon.

        The US superiority didn’t last too long, I remember a conversation with a Brit claiming that Britain was dominant from the Spanish Armada (1588) to WWI while the USA was only for a few years from WWII until the Soviets got the bomb.

        1. Synoia

          I remember a conversation with a Brit claiming that Britain was dominant from the Spanish Armada (1588) to WWI

          That Brit was a ignorant fool. He was Ignoring Cromwell, the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

          We, the Brits study British History. For those of us in the then A/S Level Science stream in the UK it was an “elective” although we did not use that word.

        2. Gaianne

          The message to the Soviets worked. Their own nuclear program had been a bit lackadaisical. After Hiroshima they stepped it up and made it top priority.

          It is odd how the Americans did not expect this.


      3. larry

        Pavel, there is no need for a balanced budget, and the budget should never be a policy goal except in the most unusual circumstances. Criticisms of these trips need to be made on other grounds.

    2. Praedor

      He could have apologized and then pointed out that he’s considering giving Europe the Hiroshima treatment too, so it’s all good. His spending loads to modernize or nuke arsenal includes adding what are considered “more usable” nukes in Europe. They’re kinda Hiroshima sized in yield so could be used with abandon if he manages to provoke a shooting war with his aggressive and pointless NATO expansion.

      Nothing could be more hilarious than President Peace Prize ending his term (and all future Presidential terms) than being the second, and last, President to use nukes.

  3. vlade

    TBH, I do not understand the need to apologise for this.
    a) Tokyo (and other) firebombing had about 100k dead + >1m wounded and 1m homeless (it’s unclear how many of these died later). This is official figure, which is likely to be under-stated as both US and Japan had reasons to do so. Yet, I didn’t hear anyone asking for apologies for the Tokyo raid. So we can rule out the apology on “too many death” basis.

    b) it’s very plausible that nukings were one of the primary reasons why the Emperor stepped in, when Japanese army still wanted to fight even with the price being destruction of Japanese nation. The causalties, both civilian and military, would be quite higher if the war went on, especially with the Red Army invading Japan from the north at the same time. War is hell, and you don’t win it w/o casualties.

    c) it’s also very plausible that the fact that nukes were used, and they effect was seen (and reviled, over time) is the reason why nukes weren’t used anywhere else so far. Bradley proposed that nukes be given to MacArthur in Korea, but was turned down (contrary to popular belief, there’s no conclusive evidence that MacArthur wanted to use them – Truman accused him of it, but later retracted)

    TBH, I would much rather see UK/US apology for civilian of Germany, which was truly pointless (Dresden being the main case), massively large than the blitz at any stage, and opposed by a number of people even then (although generally having public support, which tells you something about human nature).

    I could see a point of a joint statement by the US/Japan about regretting ANY and ALL atrocities that happened during the war. But I doubt either side has the guts to say that.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Whatever the issue of firebombing Tokyo and elsewhere, there was at least some marginal military justification of bombing industrial cities and railheads, even if mass civilian casualties were likely (although in some cases ‘hitting the working classes’ was a stated military objective).

      But nuclear weapons are different – especially used as an airburst over an unwarned city. Even within the context of the multiple horrors of the Pacific and European Wars, Hiroshima and Nagasaki stand out – they were the deliberate mass targeting of civilians with the most powerful weapon ever created, for the sole purpose of terror. If for no other reason than it needs to be restated that no country should ever consider using nuclear weapons against cities again, they justify an apology.

      1. Pavel

        Here is a forceful, plain-spoken comment by Jacob Hornberger:

        I don’t get it. On the one hand, we’re told that the intentional targeting of civilians in wartime is a war crime. On the other hand, we’re told that the intentional targeting of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs was not a war crime.

        Which is it?

        The fact is that it is a war crime for troops to intentionally target non-combatants in wartime. Nobody disputes that. But then given such, why the pass on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Everyone agrees that Truman was targeting non-combatants — mainly women, children, and seniors — when he ordered the nuking of those two cities. How do defenders of Truman’s decision avoid the inexorable conclusion that Truman’s action constituted a war crime?

        Some defenders of the nuclear attacks say that since Japan started the war, the Japanese people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had it coming to them. But since when do individual citizens have much say as to when their nation goes to war or not? How much say did the American people have in George W. Bush’s and the U.S. national-security state’s decision to go to war against Iraq and Afghanistan?

        And let’s not forget who intentionally maneuvered, postured, and provoked Japan into attacking the United States, especially with his oil embargo on Japan, his freezing of Japanese bank accounts, and his settlement terms that were deliberately humiliating to Japanese officials. That would be none other than President Franklin Roosevelt, who was willing to sacrifice the soldiers at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines in order to circumvent widespread opposition among the American people to getting involved in World War II. Isn’t there something unsavory about provoking a nation into starting a war and then using that nation’s starting the war to justify nuking its citizens in an attempt to bring the war to a quicker conclusion? Wouldn’t it have been better and less destructive to not have provoked Japan into attacking the United States in the first place?

        Defenders of the nuclear attacks also say that Truman had only two choices: nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki and continuing the war until Japan surrendered. But that’s just not true. There was another option open to Truman — a negotiated surrender. Given Truman’s steadfast insistence, however, on “unconditional surrender” —a ludicrous and destructive position if there ever was one — a negotiated surrender was an option that he refused to explore, choosing instead to kill hundreds of thousands of non-combatants in order to secure his “unconditional surrender” from Japan, which, by the way, turned out to not be “unconditional” after all since Japan was permitted to keep its emperor as part of its surrender.

        Why Aren’t Hiroshima and Nagasaki War Crimes?

    2. Donald

      I agree that all war crimes should be condemned and the Japanese are in no position to lecture Americans on war crimes in WWII. Their record is almost Hitlerian. People in various Asian countries hated them for a reason.

      That said, I have never understood how people on both sides of this issue make use of the Tokyo firebomb raid. Both the Tokyo raid and the atomic bombings were deliberate mass slaughters of civilians, and therefore fit the definition of terrorism, yet Americans want to make fine distinctions, either between our actions and those of our enemies, or between killing civilians with conventional vs non conventional weapons. I understand the usefulness of drawing a line around nukes, but morally, Hiroshima and Tokyo were the same.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Straw man. Please point to when Japanese have lectured Americans on war crimes.

        Obama made this an issue by going to Hiroshima. There would seem to be no point to that unless he intended to use it to make a gesture, such as indicating some level of regret or expressing sympathy for the victims (he could express a sentiment short of an apology) and/or to speak about the need foster peace. Without a clear political or diplomatic objective, his visit merely opens up a long-festering wound in Japan.

    3. roadrider

      The fire bombings of Japanese (and German) cities may have been as destructive of human life but they were qualitatively different from the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and always will be.

      With those attacks we set a terrible precedent of the first use of nuclear weapons. Those attacks, unnecessary to end the war or to prevent action against US military forces or the civilian population of the US, have enshrined our place in history as the first, and only, nation ever to use these weapons in war. This, along with our continued possession of huge stockpile of these weapons have made us hypocrites in the view of other nations who seek to possess them for their own defense. Furthermore,the fire bombs, as terrible as they were (and yes, they can be viewed as war crimes) would never have led to the creation of generations of new weapons of previously un-imagined power that could threaten the very existence of human life on this planet.

      The military and political establishments of the US sought this race for “nuclear superiority” that led to decades of escalation in nuclear stockpiles and delivery systems on hair-trigger alerts. Its a miracle that we survived the incidents of false alarms and crises that could have easily led to nuclear exchanges between the US, its allies and the USSR. We still, today, live under a cloud of potential devastation that could result from nuclear exchanges between India and Pakistan. And yet, we still seek to “modernize” and “upgrade” our nuclear weapons (long after they’ve been recognized as having no essential military value).

      Obama should not only apologize to the Japanese, he should apologize to the world for the nuclear cudgel that we’ve held over the world for seven decades since Hiroshima and the curse of the ongoing proliferation of nuclear weapons in nations around the globe. Most Americans either do not know or fail to acknowledge that under the Non-Proliferation Treaty both the US and the other nuclear-armed nations committed to eliminate their stockpiles of nuclear weapons in exchange for other signatory nations agreeing to forego the development of their own nuclear capabilities. Our failure to live up to this treaty obligation while turning a blind eye to non-signatory allies of ours (such as Israel and Pakistan) that have developed nuclear weapons is another symptom of the disease that we inflicted on the world beginning in August of 1945.

      1. Cojo

        I would like to make a devil’s argument to the point that the nuclear attacks should not have been carried out. The point is what if no one knew what the horrific effects of a nuclear strike entailed. What if after the US, China, and Soviet Union had built considerable stockpiles there was an event similar to the Cuban missile crisis and strategic leaders seriously considered the nuclear option, foolishly thinking one side would come out better than the other. Without evidence from a real strike as to the devastating effects of a nuclear attack, we may have realized the horrors of a global nuclear winter and possible extinction of the human race.

        Now, I am not condoning the targeting of a civilian population, but dropping the bomb may have done some good to prevent more savage and ubiquitous annihilation for future generations.

        1. Cojo

          I would like to make a devil’s argument to the point that the nuclear attacks should not have been carried out. The point is what if no one knew what the horrific effects of a nuclear strike entailed. What if after the US, China, and Soviet Union had built considerable stockpiles there was an event similar to the Cuban missile crisis and strategic leaders seriously considered the nuclear option, foolishly thinking one side would come out better than the other. Without evidence from a real strike as to the devastating effects of a nuclear attack, we may have realized the horrors of a global nuclear winter and possible extinction of the human race.

          Now, I am not condoning the targeting of a civilian population, but dropping the bomb may have done some good to prevent more savage and ubiquitous annihilation for future generations. That being said, an apology is in order at this time.

          1. Darthbobber

            So whenever something is developed that is a huge jump beyond the previous destructiveness, one should look around for a bunch of live people to inflict it on, just so everyone gets the point?

            So when the succeeding generations of bombs quickly reached a destructive capacity more than 100 times that of tiny little atomic firecrackers like Fat Man and Littleboy, we (and the Russians/Chinese/Indians, et al) should have done the same, just so the Hawks (presumably incapable of generalizing from the tests) would know it wasn’t their predecessors’ eensy nukes they were fiddling with now?

            Maybe while we were at it, we could have deliberately melted down a couple of reactors just so everybody would have a good feel for what such an event was like?

        2. roadrider

          Ridiculous. It was plainly obvious to anyone connected with the Manhattan Project that the effects of a nuclear weapon would be horrific, particularly if used in an attack on civilian populated areas. If there was no consciousness of what the effects of the bomb would be then why was it so imperative to build it before the Nazis did?

          They knew, They all knew. The only questions they had was whether the plutonium bomb would work and that was laid to rest after the Trinity test. They didn’t even bother testing the uranium bomb (Little Boy) because it was a lead-pipe cinch to work. The only underestimate may have been the effects of radiation and fallout on survivors of the blast and fire effects but I’m sure that the scientists knew that these would be pretty bad.

          Your “devil’s argument” is at best a post-hoc justification and it fails very badly at even that.

          1. cojo

            The scientists knew this, but go ahead and explain that to a Curtis LeMay. At least here, there was enough horror to temper most of the hawks and marginalized the rest.

            1. roadrider

              The military people knew too otherwise why were they so hell bent on getting the bomb? BTW, LeMay explicitly said that the atomic bombs were not needed to end the war.

              And your argument is even more ridiculous since the so-called lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were NOT learned by the US government, military or intelligence establishments, If they had been they would not have rushed into a race to build more and more destructive bombs (ones that could annihilate civilization – even the “victors” of a nuclear war)?

              Do you know that the US military convened studies of an unprovoked first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union as early as August 1945 – before the Soviets even had the bomb! They continued this stance through the sixties when we were talking about multi-megaton hydrogen war heads and ICBMs instead of the kiloton range weapons carried by bombers. And this stance was supported by many in the political, intelligence, academic and journalistic establishments. The use of nuclear weapons was contemplated in the Korean War, Vietnam, the Suez Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Israel-Egypt war in the sixties and even today ideologues and fanatics in countries like India and Pakistan are prepared to use nuclear weapons in combat.

              So please drop your delusional ideas about the world learning lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It never has learned.

        3. cassandra

          I recall having read of an alternative proposal, to invite Japanese diplomats to a demonstration test. By this account, the proposal was rejected in part because of concerns that the bomb might not detonate, and because there were only a few available at that time. (Perhaps someone else can provide a reference). Questions of veracity aside, such a test demo could certainly have been set up for international observation at some later time, to show the world what had been unleashed, without having to inflict the unnecessary carnage.

            1. Gaianne

              I have never encountered anything hinting that a demonstration detonation of a nuclear weapon was ever seriously considered.

              So you are right. However the reasons for discounting it do need to be put in context. Confidence in the Uranium bomb (Hiroshima) was so high that the design was never tested. It was made operational without testing. The Plutonium bomb (Nagasaki) _was_ tested. That was the Trinity shot at Alamagordo, New Mexico, which was completely successful–exceeding expectations.

              One point that seems to be often overlooked is that, following the defeat of Germany in the west, the Soviet Union had begun to re-enter the war in the east, taking territory held by the Japanese. It seems clear, though it is never stated, that the US was determined to pre-empt further Soviet gains.


  4. Gaylord

    Still no acknowledgement of US responsibility for the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe that is poisoning the world, in fact quite the opposite.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      US responsibility? I would have thought that little mess is firmly on the Japanese plate.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        It is an old GE reactor. I’ve tried Googling and given the crappy state of Google plus the how long ago the installation took place, I can’t ascertain how much of a role GE had in influencing the siting decision. Gaylord seems to think a lot, and if he can provide detail, that would help.

          1. Roger Smith

            Wow! This makes me appreciate Sanders railing on GE even more. How do these people live with themselves?

  5. PlutoniumKun

    I think Clive calls this precisely right. I can’t see any possible reason for an Obama visit to Hiroshima without an apology or at least some sort of acknowledgement that it was a step too far, even in a world war; except for some vaguely defined idea that it would burnish his legacy and push forward TTIP. It makes no strategic sense. And as such, it is typical of Obama’s presidency – occasional fine gestures aimed mostly at preening his ego, with no obvious strategy or philosophy behind it. Its hard to believe anyone could be worse than Bush, but at least Bush had a philosophy, albeit an astonishingly wrong headed one. It seems that everyone in the world, apart from the US and the rest of the English speaking press sees this.

    I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that the two genuine foreign policy achievements of his presidency – the Iran deal and the rapprochement with Cuba, can be credited to Kerry, not Obama. Obama seemed incapable of reining in Clinton (or any of the many other neocons in the military/foreign policy establishment), probably because he just wasn’t bothered. With a half decent Sec of State, some progress has been made, but more through chance than anything else. When Obama himself takes the lead, he has proven as ineffectual and stupid as Bush.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The Pope and European business deserve credit too. It’s likely they forced the issue. The New World Pope already made noises about sanctions and announced a trip to Cuba. Kerry thanked the Pope profusely, and European businesses did nothing but gripe about Iran sanctions in light of losing Russian markets.

      Obama only acts if he is going to be embarrassed in a direct way.

  6. EndOfTheWorld

    Japan has finally apologized to Korea for the “comfort women” policy. And those two countries don’t even like each other a whole lot. So, yes, Obama should say something at least approaching an apology—otherwise why go? Actually I think he will. Maybe the reports given out thus far are false and only meant to lower expectations, so whatever weak apology he does spout will be received favorably. Obama as the rambunctiously engaging prez who throws away his prepared speech and just “wings it”.

    1. Praedor

      The normal non-apology apology starts with, “The United States regrets the loss of innocent life…” as if it happens without agency.

  7. Quentin

    During his first presidential campaign Barak Obama let himself be adulated by adoring crowds in the heart of Berlin. No one seemed to find it peculiar that the aspiring president would campaign abroad, as it were, in the Empire. Near the end of his second presidency he goes to Hiroshima in order to…to do whatever he does to make an impression on his underlings. Berlin and Tokyo: what could be more symbolic of post-WW2 USA. This scion of Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America leaves the country he ruled (governed?) for eight years in enigmatic political and financial limbo, as it were, facing a dead end. You’re reading his obituary.

  8. Disturbed Voter

    Anyone want to apologize for not immediately surrendering to the Axis forces, to save lives, and demonstrate our saintly pacifism? How about apologizing for not immediately adopting Stalinism/Maoism to save the world from 50 years of extinction brinksmanship … in favor of our saintly diplomacy?

    1. P.L. Everts

      Blah, blah, blah. They stopped the f’ing war, didn’t they? Don’t start something you can’t finish. If you awake the sleeping giant the consequences may be harmful to your country. My father served in the Marine Corps bombing Jap shipping off of Guadalcanal. I served in I Corps, S. Vietnam. My son has served in Korea and the Middle East. You’re welcome.

      1. Plenue

        I most definitely don’t thank you for your ‘service’ against the people of Vietnam.

  9. stefan

    The great lesson of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick is about the terrible costs of prevailing.

    It’s a hard lesson to learn.

  10. rusti

    First of all, burger-eating, Cadillac-driving Dothraki is definitely the funniest thing I’ve read today.

    Second, this reminds me of John Schwarz’ article in The Intercept about Obama’s refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide after explicitly promising to do so on the campaign trail. Par for the course!

    1. Pavel

      File that one along with the other Obama campaign promises (close Gitmo, most Transparent™ government ever, bring troops home from Iraq, etc etc…)

      1. Synoia

        It is the most transparent government ever. The most transparently dishonest.

        Clever lawyerly parsing of words.

  11. simpleflyer

    I see little point in any participant in that war – or more correctly, the descendants of any participant – trying to apologize for anything. Better to just move on with the future.

    One can never say conclusively what the consequences, for better or worse, of an action are or were because we don’t have the luxury of running parallel universes – one in which the action was taken, and the other, not, so that we can compare outcomes and have an evidence-based conclusion.

    So nobody can say for certainty that the decision to bomb did or did not bring about a faster end to the war. But what should be beyond dispute, is that there is no such thing as ‘almost surrendered.’ This idea that Japan was nearly defeated and the American generals knew it may or may not be true but folks, so what? Of what comfort would it be to Mr. and Mrs. Voter Citizen in Iowa to learn that their kid was killed by an adversary about to sue for peace, and not only that, an adversary that wanted to sue for conditional peace? I’ve read absurd claims by apologists that ‘all’ the Japanese wanted to do was keep their emperor. Given that their emperor claimed to be nothing less than the direct descendant of a God, that’s not exactly a minor point. Not if one considers how that would go down in the country that fought an incredibly bloody civil war to bring about the end of an institution in which some Americans held themselves as virtually being in the position of God to their [enslaved] fellows. No, you cannot be just a a little bit of a believer in divine right. The surrender of Japan had to be unconditional, there could be no question of the Divine Emperor business continuing, not if the American electorate was to support the terms of peace.

    1. Clive

      Governments make apologies for their conduct in war all the time. The British government apologised for Bloody Sunday in NI http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jun/15/david-cameron-bloody-sunday-apology (where the army fired on civilians, which was bad enough, there was then a cover up and an official whitewash which just made a bad situation worse).

      During the conflict, there was fault in both sides. But there has to be, in my opinion, atonement and forgiveness. Else what? Endless recriminations? These just serve to keep a fire burning under resentments and set the scene for new conflict or the same old conflicts in a new guise.

      I was about 2 years old when Bloody Sunday happened. But I needed our government to make an apology, even though it was nothing at all to do with me.

      1. JustAnObserver

        Clive: Cameron only apologized after the results of the Saville inquiry into the killings was published. Similar apologies from the police after the recent damning inquest into their culpability for the Hillsborough stadium disaster have yet to arrive.

        My point being that TPTB will only apologize for anything if they are forced to by an inquiry/inquest/book/film/documentary laying out guilt or responsibility in a fashion that’s incontrovertible, undeniable and, more to the point, immediate. The events around the Hiroshima bombings fail, IMV, the last of these since, as evidenced by the thread, the whole story has come out in bits & pieces over 70+ years and is still somewhat contested.

        Also I doubt if anyone in the chain of command leading up to the decisions could ever admit to themselves that their error had such horrific consequences for so little actual gain. We’re seeing this replayed in a smaller way as some drone pilots start cracking up in various ways when they start to realize that those “bad guys” are mostly (~98%) innocent and a large number of them are children.

    2. Quentin

      Odd. In spite of everything Japan did retain the Emperor. So what’s your point?

  12. Mieko

    I disagree and read the tone of this rather differently from Clive. The tone seems neutral and vis-a-vis Obama, just reports that he can’t be expected to go against strong domestic opinion that strongly rejects any hint of apology. I think people were expecting a stronger no-nukes stance from Obama, but no big surprise there is a nationalist faction in the US that makes him more quiet than he’d like to be.

    The Japanese know all about powerful nationalists and are above all else, practical minded instead of being idealists. I think the average Japanese will feel thrilled just to have the first sitting US president visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Mostly I would have to note that this article is linked to an Asahi article of 2 days earlier which this article is contradicting, and it’s clarifying the actual plan for the visit vs what Asahi themselves had previously reported. I read the quotes around “speech” in that light, not as a sneer but as a clarification. Asahi had made it sound like he DID plan to make a speech in the earlier article. The earlier article said “Obama plans to lay a wreath at Peace Park and re-proclaim from Hiroshima the “Nuclear Free World” that he first avocated in his 2009 speech in Prague.”

    This article is largely a clarification and back-pedaling from their own prior reporting on the planned visit. Hence the emphasis that he’s not planning a ‘speech’ but merely some off the cuff remarks about how he feels on visiting the site.

    1. Clive

      The Asahi, along with all of the major U.S. and European news wires picked up and ran with the original “Obama to make a big speech in Hiroshima” story, planted by the White House. As usual, there was very little questioning of it in the mainstream media and the coverage was more-or-less retreading what the administration staff fed directly to journalists.

      But then there was a load of backtracking. No big speech, no change at all in the U.S. reasons for using nuclear weapons, no crowds of Hiroshima residents or survivors. All (I can’t find a single English-language report detailing the change of emphasis) the non-Japanese media had moved on but the Asahi did get tetchy and ran an entirely new piece (the one I cited), linking to the original reporting, in large part recanting the previous “big speech” narrative. The Asahi was not content with simply running a new story without reference to the previous context (the one spun by the White House) and markedly stated on each key point the source (Spokesman Josh Earnest) and quoted him directly, word for word, contrasting with the earlier much more ambitious-sounding aims of the Hiroshima visit.

      The Asahi didn’t need to call it duplicitous — they could let Earnest’s “clarifications” about what they had previously been told speak for themselves and show up the shabbiness of the whole original big-speech spin for what it was. A cheap stunt that one part of the administration thought would play well and serve some useful purpose (and TPP boosterism is a very likely one), but then another part of the administration (maybe the U.S. Department of State) viewed as being too soft and they had to reel it back in.

      If the Asahi had wanted to merely correct some small fairly unimportant details which were mildly inaccurate, it wouldn’t have drawn so much attention to everything that had changed. The Asahi does like to guard its reputation and rarely just trots out completely unsourced, unsubstantiated stories. It laid the blame — and certainly the focus — on the various retractions (“clarifications” if you prefer) squarely with Spokesman Earnest. It certainly did not take any responsibility itself for getting the original story wrong.

      And the main take-away for Japanese readers from the second, later, story was how far the Hiroshima visit was now being downplayed compared to what the Asahi had been told by the Obama administration in the first place.

      1. RBHoughton

        Agree that TPP boosterism is a likely factor. I live in HK and it seems many people are doubtful about Abe, his visits to Yakusuni – the shrine where dead soliders are revered – his re-arming of Japan and the suspected resurrection of the aims of the Tanaka Memorial. TPP is the perfect excuse for expanding Japanese influence.

        Today Japan produces about half of its goods overseas to take advantage of low labour and land costs. It was the military intention of the Generals and Admirals to use Chinese labour and resources in the Japanese attempt at World Government that inspired the attack on Pearl Harbor.

        The suspicion is Abe and his friends are planning to do it again. That’s why the Japanese people, usually so slow to anger, have been on the streets.

      2. mieko

        Clive, the Asahi original article led by saying the announcement came from both governments (日米両国政府が発表した。) and followed up to quote both the White House and PM Abe’s addressing a press conference saying how welcome this visit is. As such, with regard to any “confusion that needed to be cleared up”, to the extent that was embarrassing, would have reflected on Abe PM as much as Obama. That’s how I read it, anyway.

        1. Clive

          Yes, the Asahi was — in their original piece — briefed by both the U.S. and Japanese governments in a joint statement. The Asahi drew attention to the fact the they were relying on information in a joint statement — that the original much more ambitious-sounding prospects for the Hiroshima came from both governments. Initially, the U.S. went along with this big-event coverage. There is no way that a joint statement about the Hiroshima visit would have been issued without both the U.S. and the Japanese governments agreeing to the content.

          But then Josh Earnest really went into full retreat mode. Sorry for the length, but it’s worth quoting in full what he said after the initial joint statement from the U.S. and Japanese governments (emphasis mine):

          Kathleen, why don’t you get started with questions?

          Q I’m actually going to have to start with the President’s trip to Hiroshima.

          MR. EARNEST: Okay.

          Q It seemed like the White House, in addition to announcing the visit, wanted to really stress that the President was not going to apologize in any way for the bombing at Hiroshima. And I’m wondering if you could just articulate a little bit in more detail why it’s so important that folks understand that that’s not the mission of this trip. What would be so wrong in apologizing, given the devastation and the size of the tragedy?

          MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously this is a question that historians have considered and it’s an entirely legitimate line of inquiry for historians. The President intends to visit to send a much more forward-looking signal about his ambition for realizing the goals of a planet without nuclear weapons. This also is an opportunity for the visit to highlight the remarkable transformation in the relationship between Japan and the United States.

          If you would have imagined that one of our closest partners and allies in Asia was Japan, just 70 years ago it would have been very difficult to imagine, given the hostilities between our two countries. But yet, that’s exactly what has occurred, based on a commitment of the leaders of our two countries to forge closer bonds. We’ve also seen deeper ties between our peoples. And even as we speak, there are thousands of U.S. military servicemembers who are stationed in Japan, and they operate in bases in Japan that enhance not just the national security of the United States but also contribute in important ways to the national security of our Japanese allies.

          The United States and Japan also work effectively together, including through our militaries; on humanitarian relief efforts; on other emergency response efforts, including the natural disaster that the Japanese people suffered as a result of a tsunami and an ensuing crisis at the nuclear facility in Fukushima. All of this is a testament to the way that the U.S.-Japan relationship has dramatically changed over the last 70 years, and the President is certainly interested in further marking the progression of that relationship by visiting Hiroshima.

          Q But he doesn’t need to go to Hiroshima to talk about the partnership between the U.S. and Japan, right? I mean, he has a message specifically about nuclear weapons, I assume, and there are a lot of groups saying that he shouldn’t just go there — he should go with something actually in hand, some new announcement to make.

          MR. EARNEST: There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions about this trip. They’re certainly entitled to them. So the President will be traveling to Hiroshima. That visit, of course, will follow visits that were made by both the U.S. Ambassador to Japan and, recently, by Secretary of State John Kerry, who attended a G7 ministerial meeting in Hiroshima. And the President will have an opportunity to visit the Peace Park and offer up his own reflections about his visit to that city.

          The President certainly does understand that the United States bears a special responsibility. The United States continues to be the only country to have used nuclear weapons, and it means that our country bears a special responsibility to lead the world in an effort to eliminate them. And this is a goal that has been sought by both Democratic and Republican Presidents, and it is a goal that would make our country and our planet safer.

          But, look, there’s also no diminishing the important contribution of the greatest generation of Americans who didn’t just save the United States, but, rather, saved the world from tyranny. And the courage and bravery of that generation of Americans is one that will go down in American history. And over the last decade or so, there’s been an increasing effort to pay tribute to them as that generation ages and, unfortunately, many of those American heroes have passed on. But I feel confident, and the President is confident that future generations of Americans, long into our history, will recognize a significant debt of gratitude that they owe to those brave Americans that ensured the United States and the defenders of freedom prevailed in the Second World War.

          Note that the journalist is saying that she’s had a steer that The White House then made great efforts to make the visit appear flagrantly unrepentant. And Spokesman Earnest then goes on to make it sound like Obama was — what ? — as if he was just popping to Hiroshima on a day trip ? And was he even representing the U.S. government and acting as a head of state ? No wonder the Asahi was left wondering if — after listening to Earnest — whether he was talking about the same visit as they’d just been briefed about in the joint U.S.-Japan government statement.

          The White House’s sudden discovery of its latent hawkishness — and the press briefing by Spokesman Earnest — left the Japanese government high-and-dry, looking stupid. As if they’d just made the whole thing up and made it out to be more than the U.S. had said to them it would be. The Asahi, by inference, then seemed to look equally gullible. Hence their highly negative tone for the second article — which as I pointed out, dwelt heavily on the characterisation of intransigent U.S. public opinion, the lack of a meeting with the survivors, the lack of any ceremony and the absence of any kind of formal speech by Obama leaving Hiroshima with just his “thoughts” on “events”. Lucky Hiroshima.

          1. mieko

            Clive, I fully understand your own disgust with this, more so thanks to your posting the whole text of this Q&A. All I’m saying is that maybe you’re reading some of your own feelings into the 2nd Asahi article.

            Here I reflect and compare, as I think the Japanese must, even if subconsciously, on very similar yet fully inverted sensibility of the Abe government where Abe has continued to visit Yasukuni shrine, and until very, very, recently caving to strong Korean (government as well as NGO) pressure and finally, surprisingly, showing just a bit of contrition to the Korean (and only the Korean) “comfort women.”

            It’s inverted because in Abe’s case, the unrepentant hawks want him to visit Yasukuni, want him be intransigent and not apologize to the comfort women. It’s the rest of the world that can’t abide by his visiting Yasukuni.

            Here it’s presented by Asahi that Obama wants to ‘quietly’ go and honor the dead in Hiroshima (almost as a private citizen, just the way Abe portrays himself when he visits Yasukuni – my thoughts, not theirs, of course). It’s in that context that the Asahi seems to allow Obama to cloak himself in the excuse of “outside pressure”, the deep opinions of US nationalist/militarists who would go absolutely nuts if Obama apologized, just as the Japanese right wing has vehemently rejected any apology. “It can’t be helped” that no apology will be made, because of the strong feelings of the nationalists. Let him just make his quiet visit, seems to me, to be the tone of the Asahi. After all, the Japanese know exactly how that pressure works – though they make it sound like they believe that unlike Abe, Obama’s true sympathy lies not with the hawks. You and I are both aware of Obama’s whole-hearted embrace of murder by drone, etc. but in Japan he still has solid and intact, vestiges of being a great anti-nuke, Nobel-honored pacifist. Even though he has made a sick joke out of that in so many ways, I don’t get the feeling that Asahi took him to task from backing way, way, down from the highest expectations some Japanese had of him in the Hiroshima-Nagasaki visits. Seems like they go out of their way to emphasize as ‘reasonable’ his excuse for being such a schmuck. But I myself may be reading some of my own bias into what is a very short article.

            1. Clive

              You do bring up and explain some very valid points, this is really appreciated. I’ve expounded my own opinion in a “compare and contrast” fashion for the relationship between Obama’s Hiroshima visit and Abe’s (to give an example) visits to the Yasukuni Shirne to EndOfTheWorld’s comment below about a letter sent to the Washington Post.

              For the Asahi article, I think in attempting to decide what they intended to convey it depends on how you see the typical Japanese response to something they don’t like. My experience is that if (as a generalisation) you tell a Japanese person something they mildly or peripherally dislike, you’ll usually just not get a response. It will end up being that fairly singular thing to the Japanese, a non-topic. Japanese people don’t welcome interpersonal conflict and, given a choice, they’d rather simply drop the whole subject.

              Where they have been riled, and can’t simply let silence make the whole thing go away, you get a passive-aggressive sniping, accusations-by-omissions, agent-less criticisms and the like. The Asahi piece was, to my reading, simply dripping in that.

              You don’t get, though, outright and overt direct attacks. I can’t remember, for example, ever reading that kind of specific, pointed “we think this is wrong” editorialising in Japanese language press of a senior U.S. figure. So it is difficult in trying to unpick those incidents where either the Japanese government and/or a Japanese newspaper really are in a fit of pique (or not).

              But most of the Japanese I know are middle aged. I do get a sense that maybe younger Japanese are becoming far more direct, say-what-you-really-think in their communication styles. Maybe that is starting to appear in the mass media.

              To sum up, put it this way, if I were the Japanese government or the Asahi, yep, I would definitely be annoyed with Obama and the White House press team for making them look like chumps.

  13. EndOfTheWorld

    I don’t see how Obama can give a speech at Hiroshima and not at least say something about the nuclear bomb employed there, but maybe he will surprise me.

  14. Ivy

    Half in jest, and fully in earnest.
    That is one takeaway from Obama press conferences, whether about nukes, Gitmo or sundry other topics.

  15. oh

    why make the trip to Hiroshima if you’re not going to apologize? It would be a gracious gesture to admit that the US made a big mistake (2 mistakes if you count Nagasaki). The US media seems to think the sky would fall if he apologizes. Disgusting!

    1. Massinissa

      For some reason, people think its wrong for presidents to apologize for basically anything ever. Its as if apology itself is a toxic practice.

  16. Russell

    That the Japanese military was intent on continuing to fight even after the bombs had been dropped tends to make their use more justified.
    The nature of war in the Pacific was savagery.
    Firebombing had not brought it to an end. The US was losing 4,000 a day.
    Paul Fussell the historian said in Learning To Love The Bomb the further away from combat you were the more you were against use of My father said, that after 6 months of fighting in the last six months with The 63rd Infantry till ‘VE Day he did not expect to survive the invasion of Japan.
    500,000 to 1.5 million casualties were expected according to what I have read.
    If Curtis LeMay was so sure the bomb was unnecessary how come he so often wanted to use it?

  17. Russell

    Oh well if Obama apologizes he will be criticized.
    If he does not he will be criticized.

  18. Patrick Donnelly

    Japan was to be targetted by Tsunami: see Project Seal. But the war was over by that Project’s finish time.

    Russia finally declared war on Japan and were destroying their armies in the north. They still hold islands that were occupied by Japan. The nukes were to prevent Russian participation in post war Japan. No one made the decision lightly. Americans are so ignorant of history, kept in the dark by their masters.

    Fukushima was concrete expression by someone that Japan was in breach of the Nuke Non Proliferation Treaty…. Too much Pu.

    Japan walked out of the League, Wilson’s baby, but fathered by the NWO crowd. Has Japan learned nothing?

    Oceania has let the Genie out of the bottle.

  19. EndOfTheWorld

    According to a letter to the editor of the Wash Post (May 13): “Be assured, the ceremonial-inclined Japanese will view the visit as an apology.”

    1. Clive

      This is the dumb — head-scratching-awe-at-the-ineptitude — part of the whole debacle. If Obama had simply visited the Peace Park, left some meaningful token and uttered a few carefully crafted words, the whole steeped-in-reverence significance would have had a lasting impression on the Japanese.

      When Abe or some such charlatan goes to the Yasukuni Shrine, he doesn’t need to say a thing about atrocities, what Japan did or didn’t do in WWII, what it should or shouldn’t be doing now and so on. He is making an unmistakable “screw you, China” statement. He knows exactly what he is doing. So does China, Korea or whoever the gesture is intended to annoy (the context behind the visit to the shrine being clear based on whatever has recently transpired between the nations involved).

      Obama could have achieved just such a powerful result, but immeasurably more positive. All he had to do was show up, act dignified and keep his mouth shut. And muzzle the White House PR machine as a whole and those suffering from terminal cases of foot-in-mouth disease like Spokesman Earnest especially.

      But no. Rather, the administration takes something contentious out of the too-difficult box, gives it a shake, parades it for everyone to see, realises that it is rather messy and leaving a stain on the carpet, figures that it is all, well, too difficult, then tries to stuff the whole thing back in the box again. It then also tries to pretend that it had never happened and attempts to down play it. The Obama administration is by far the worst we’ve seen in trying to spin its way out of the corners it paints itself into.

      Obama and his advisers seem to be totally unable to grasp that the world sees this (amongst many other examples) of how the U.S. says one thing to an overseas audience, spews out an entirely different version for the domestic audience, expects no-one to notice the difference then carries on regardless and — for U.S. friends and allies — gets perplexed and exasperated or — to the U.S.’ enemies — finds plenty of evidence that the U.S. is hopelessly untrustworthy.

      And, worse (if that were possible), when it gets caught out in its double-dealing, like it has done with the Hiroshima visit, the administration gets all belligerent and heads for the ideological bunker.

  20. Edward Qubain

    These days everything the U.S. does is probably viewed around the world with a jaundiced eye.

    1. RBHoughton

      And why is that? Why is a country that could and should be leading the whole world into a new century with hope and expectation and the resolution for improvement instead mired in a real economy based on war and a fake economy based on paper?

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