30 May 2016
Obama in Hiroshima

Obama's visit to Hiroshima

Rhetoric and reality appeared to be at odds during President Obama's visit to Hiroshima, writes Tom O'Sullivan.

One could not fail to be moved by the spectacle of the US president, Nobel Peace Laureate, and underwriter of the US pivot-to-Asia strategy greeting Sunao Tsuboi and Shigeaki Mori, the two surviving hibakusha, at the Peace Park Memorial in Hiroshima on Friday.

It was obvious from a Japan vantage point that this significant gesture was hugely symbolic for the survivors and local people of Hiroshima as well as honouring the Japanese, Korean, and Americans who perished in August 1945. I believe the empathy shown by President Obama, who was born close to Pearl Harbour 16 years after the bomb was dropped, was genuine and heartfelt.

It was also a unique opportunity for some of us to better understand and get better acquainted with the issues in the lead-up by the Allies to the bombing on August 6th, 1945. In that sense President Obama may have contributed to ensuring that Hiroshima and Nagasaki may not be forgotten.

The issues that many learned historians pondered over the last few days included the roles that Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Truman played, the alternative plans under consideration to using the atomic bombs, the weather factor that apparently was a central role in the decision to bomb the central Hiroshima location rather than other Japanese geographies, and then possibly the media cover-ups when realisation dawned on the extent of what had been inflicted on the local populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The decisions that some leaders had to make in that period may have been among the most difficult in history. Nevertheless, the bilateral relationship that has evolved between the US and Japan over the six decades since the bombs has been nothing short of spectacular.

However, it is important to acknowledge that some NPOs were referring to "double standards" before President Obama ever disembarked from Air Force One in Hiroshima Prefecture last Friday.

Also, after the recent Ben Rhodes interview ( Deputy Director of US NSC) I think it may be important to distinguish between spin and reality for this US administration which has been one of the most centralised in recent memory.

If I was not mistaken it was Mr. Rhodes and NSC Secretary Rice who boarded the president's vehicle as it returned to the airport in Hiroshima after about 40 minutes at the Peace Park presumably confident that their mission had been accomplished.

It would appear that these two officials have played an important role in the centralisation of White House authority . It also appears that officials such as US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, did not attend Friday's event in Hiroshima although the UN plays a central role in nuclear non-proliferation. One is left to wonder whether Ms. Rice and Mr. Rhodes have contributed to the deep polarisation that we now see now unfolding in US politics.

These were some additional observations.

Secretary Kerry may have been used as a stalking horse to visit Hiroshima first, testing the ground for what the domestic US reaction may have been in the US, prior to the president's visit last Friday. This may appear disingenuous to some but perhaps realpolitik to others.

Despite the references to peace and nuclear disarmament on Friday, the president had come to Hiroshima from Vietnam where he felt the necessity to lift the US lethal arms embargo and to seek to reestablish port rights into Cam Ranh Bay for the US military. Vietnam may already be the 12th largest global importer of weapons according to SIPRI databases although it ranks 125 on global per capita GDP rankings, and the US is the world's largest exporter of lethal weapons. Negotiations may also re-open with the Philippines about the reestablishment of US military bases there.

The Obama administration's score in reducing US nuclear stock piles may also have been the poorest among post cold war administrations according to the NY Times.

There was little or no discussion as far as I could ascertain in the run-up to the presidential visit on the extent to which the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan may have been experimentation rather than genuine military means to ending the war.

Then we have the current spectacle of Donald Trump urging Japan and South Korea to build their own nuclear warfare defence capabilities, and the officiating Japanese prime minister yesterday who is intent on amending Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, and who apparently has no plans for a reciprocal visit to Pearl Harbour. Even Shintaro Ishihara appears to disagree with Mr. Trump on Japan's need to advance to nuclear weapons

The peace rhetoric at Hiroshima Peace Park on Friday would appear to be partially at odds with the current military realities on the ground in East Asia at present.

But perhaps in the modern age and maybe even throughout history the sheriff needs a gun in one hand to enforce peace in his county.
Tags: japan, hiroshima, president obama, nuclear weapons