Washington, DC - There is no question that Japan continues to seek a U.S. apology for having delivered atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
When Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hiroshima on 11 April 2016, he made no apology nor did he speak. His appearance, however, was a “first” by a sitting U.S. Secretary of State. Separately, press release/documentation indicated Kerry’s strong desire (reflecting that of President Obama) for a world without war and nuclear weapons. In 2010, then U.S. Ambassador John Roos was the first U.S. diplomat to partake in memorial ceremonies at Hiroshima.
In May, President Obama will visit Japan; Secretary Kerry has stated that he will urge Obama to visit the memorial at Hiroshima. An Obama visit would be in line with his persistent “apology” tours, including those in the early days of his administration when his deep bows to foreign leaders (Saudi King Abdullah in April 2009 and the Japanese prime minister in November 2009) were frequently characterized as deriding U.S. historical/protocol policies. Most recently, his visit to Cuba, from which very little of consequence can be identified as positive for Cuban prisoners of conscience, is in the same vein.
So it would not be impossible to contemplate Obama, in the dying days of his presidency, offering weasel words that would imply a United States apology without using exact descriptive terms beyond, say, “profound regret.”
Indeed, Japan believes it to have been uniquely singled out by these attacks and curiously has extrapolated this circumstance into exoneration for its aggression and human rights abuses throughout Asia in World War II. Japanese nationalist politicians, pandering to the sentiments of those far removed from direct memories of World War II, pay indirect homage to war criminals at Shinto shrines.
Japanese problems with regional neighbors are still deeply rooted in World War II atrocities. In contrast to German mea culpas, the Japanese have been deeply reluctant to express regret, let alone responsibility, in more than abstract terms. The well-documented “Rape of Nanking” and the human rights violations of “comfort women” (forced prostitution) continue to roil relations with Beijing and Seoul. Nor is there much “forgive and forget” in countries such as the Philippines where Japanese WWII occupation resulted in the killing of every educated Filipino the Japanese could capture.
For the United States, the essential memories of World War II are fading with the ever-thinning ranks of those who participated. Our historical view remains that atomic bombs saved countless lives of U.S. combatants who otherwise would have been forced to fight suicidal-motivated Japanese throughout the full extent of their islands. Some estimate that there would have been as many as a million casualties, including Japanese. They conclude that only the atomic bomb—the equivalent of an act of God—permitted the Japanese to surrender rather than fight to the last. One doubts that there is any angst/tristesse among them for having lived—and having Japanese die.
Ultimately, it remains simple for most Americans: “No Pearl Harbor; No Hiroshima.”