President Barack Obama visiting Hiroshima itself is bad enough. It undermines President Harry S. Truman’s difficult decision, breaks the consistency of previous administrations, and gives credence to a narrative of Japanese victimhood. But an apology for the Hiroshima atomic bomb would be even worse.
Having lived in Japan for seven years and being fluent in the language, I came to make many Japanese friends. Being black made me even more of a curiosity and caused people to discuss things normally off limits, such as politics, history, and foreign relations. It was under these circumstances that one night at one of my favorite watering holes amidst a heavy discussion on foreign policy, a Japanese friend of mine, concerned that Japan would not be adequately protected in the event of a Chinese attack, proclaimed, “The U.S. should make Japan the 51st US state!”
I jokingly replied, “I’ll tell that to President Obama the next time I see him.”
In all seriousness, no, I don’t know President Obama. But based on his plans to visit Hiroshima – a controversial first for a U.S. president, and the fact that he had apparently been considering apologizing for the Hiroshima atomic attacks during his trip to Japan this week, I’m starting to believe my experience in Japanese culture and politics surpasses that of some of his advisers. Below are some reasons they should have let him neither visit Hiroshima nor apologize.
First, the Japanese political scene dictates that it’s a bad decision. It would embolden left-wing forces in Japan, embodied by the Communist Party (no, they’re not actually Communist, but that’s a story for another column), who seek to weaken the U.S.-Japan alliance. This is unacceptable at a time when political stability and unity are crucial to combat Japan’s stagnant economy and growing security threats from China and North Korea. There is no reason for President Obama to jeopardize this important relationship by making a misguided apology for Hiroshima.
Secondly, an apology devalues the significant atrocities committed by Japan during her occupations of Asian nations, especially in the face of the current young Japanese generation that knows little about World War II and increasingly believes Japan is guilty of no wrongdoing.
Indeed, at another social outing on a different night, a Japanese friend in his 30s became irate at me for lightly suggesting that the Japanese were guilty of atrocities against the Chinese during the war. Why? Because he had never learned this in school, and believed it was simply propaganda.
This is yet further evidence of a significant rewriting of history that has taken place in Japan regarding World War II. As such, any apology for Hiroshima would legitimize this whitewashing and tarnish the memories of the Americans who died to make Japan free, the Japanese who suffered along the way, and more generally the broad cause of historical truth.
Thirdly, opinion polls in Japan show that a majority of Japanese themselves, understanding the aforementioned points, do not want President Obama to apologize for Hiroshima. In fact, the current Japanese administration has not expressed any desire for the President to apologize.
There is the impression among some that the President will do everything in his power to make America look bad. His consideration of an apology for the Hiroshima atomic bomb legitimizes these concerns. But the fact is after all is said and done, Japan is a much greater, freer, more prosperous, and more influential nation due to the actions of the United States to defeat the Japanese Empire and replace it with the democracy Japan enjoys today.
Mr. President, we were not the bad guys, and we should not apologize.
John Gibbs (@realJohnGibbs) is a regular contributor to The Federalist, Bold, and Real Clear Politics, and a frequent radio and TV presence, specializing in politics and policy. He’s worked at Apple as an engineer on the iPhone, and has used his fluency in Japanese to teach technology to churches in Japan. John holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University and a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government.