These are the remarks I would like to hear from President Barack Obama when he visits Hiroshima, Japan, on Friday:
We gather in this place draped in death and sorrow to respectfully remember those who perished here almost 70 years ago.
Speaking for the United States, we have regrets.
We regret that, 75 years ago this December, Japan killed more than 2,400 Americans in an unprovoked attack against the United States in Hawaii. That’s my home.
I regret that the United States was pushed into a war we did not seek and for which we were militarily unprepared.
We believed, correctly, that it was a war between our freedom and your tyranny and butchery.
Japan had attacked China in 1937, ultimately resulting in 26 million dead and unspeakable cruelty for the enslaved.
The slow, grinding war in the vast Pacific was costly in human life because Japan resisted ferociously. Blood was poured from Tarawa to Guadalcanal, from Iwo Jima to Okinawa, which was the most horrific. On that island off Japan’s coast, the U.S. took 50,000 casualties; the Japanese, 100,000.
Japan’s suicidal resistance was in the minds of our war planners as they weighed invading the Japanese homeland.
And that brings us to where we are today, Hiroshima.
Some revisionists say dropping the atomic bomb was unnecessary, but few doubt invading Japan would have cost hundreds of thousands of American and Japanese lives.
America doesn’t regret the occupation of Japan.
Has any victor ever been so merciful to the vanquished?
President Harry S. Truman sent in a warrior – Gen. Douglas MacArthur – to implement plans drawn up in Washington. We also sent billions of dollars in aid.
Rather than charge Emperor Hirohito with war crimes, we allowed him to remain as a figurehead to help in the orderly, peaceful transformation of Japan.
Democratic elections were introduced, civil liberties – including elevating the status of women – were established. Trade unions were formed, peasants benefited from the end of the centuries-old feudal system, and we gave you a democratic constitution. (You also got baseball, but that was incidental.)
In the process of reviving your economy, we taught free enterprise and you were receptive students. Within three decades your manufacturing was challenging our own around the world. We simultaneously remade Germany in our image and, yes, I guess that was arrogant. I’d regret it, except that almost everyone is happy with the results and the U.S. is a results-oriented nation.
Seven years after the occupation began, having helped Japan to its feet, we left, voluntarily. Japan is now one of our strongest allies and best friends. Same for Germany. Turning deadly enemies into close friends is among America’s finest achievements.
Today, as we seek to lead the world toward nuclear disarmament, the U.S. carries the stigma of being the only nation to have used atomic weapons in war. Right here, in Hiroshima.
That is truth and we live with it.
Some say racism explains why we used the atomic bomb against Japan and not against Germany. But Germany collapsed in April, before we had an operational bomb.
For months we firebombed Japanese cities, but those terrifying losses did not lead Japan to surrender even though your leaders knew that all was lost.
Some say we could have dropped a “demonstration” bomb on vacant land. Would that have worked? Japan didn’t surrender even after the atomic bomb was dropped here. We regret that we were forced to drop a second bomb on Nagasaki.
We recognize that the issue isn’t just the numbers killed, because more people died in one firebomb attack on Tokyo than died here.
This was singular because it introduced a terrible new technology that haunts us to this day. We regret that circumstances caused us to do that.
In the opinion of most – not all – of our leaders, the A-bomb was so militarily and psychologically devastating it would force Japan to surrender, making an invasion unnecessary. It took two bombs, but they were right.
That decision has been a subject of ethical debate for decades. Because war is brutal, it is best to win as quickly as possible with the fewest casualties.
Can killing many to save others ever be justified?
The moral ambiguity of using the A-bomb is illustrated by this: Planners knew there were Allied POWs in the targeted cities. The goal of victory, and the subsequent peace, required nightmarish decisions to be made.
They were made. I will not second-guess them.
You are not the Japan of 70 years ago – the Japan of the Nanking genocide, the Bataan Death March, medical experiments on POWs, women used as sex slaves by your troops, suicidal banzai charges and kamikazes.
And we are not the America of 70 years ago, the America that used atomic weapons.
We feel regret, but there can be no apology.
Stu Bykofsky is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org