Historian: Even Without Apology, Obama Visit To Hiroshima Is Historic, Important

By KP Whaley – May 25, 2016

Wisconsin Public Radio – NPR

On Friday, President Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city of Hiroshima, Japan, highlighting the devastation of nuclear weapons and the need for nuclear nonproliferation.

The Obama administration is clear that he will not be apologizing for the bombings, likely because of the intense pressure that he is receiving from critics on both sides of the Pacific.

Carol Gluck, a professor of Japanese history at Columbia University, said the nationalism surrounding the use of the atomic bomb — from both countries — won’t allow for an apology.

“The Japanese atomic bomb story starts on Aug. 6, 1945 and the narrative is that the atomic bombs gave post-war Japan its mission for peace. The American story ends with Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and the narrative is that the atomic bombs ended the war and saved American lives,” said Gluck.

She said each of these two different narratives are only half of the story. She said that the Japanese narrative is missing the war and the American story is missing the horrific consequences.

Gluck admits that both narratives are strong on each side, but were also co-created by Japan and the U.S. following the American occupation after the war. For the Japanese, it allowed them to embrace democracy and not look back at their own war atrocities against China. For Americans, the bombs represented a great sense of relief at ending the war and allowing its veterans to return home.

But now 71 years later, Gluck said for the sons and grandsons of those veterans, the bombs don’t necessarily represent relief, but instead represent nuclear weapons. And today, it isn’t controversial to be against nuclear warfare.

Of Obama’s visit, Gluck said the visit is historic and important.

“It’s not going to revise the history and it’s not going to inform subsequent generations on both sides of the Pacific who don’t know that history … but (it is important because) of symbolic value and meaning,” she said.

Japanese polls suggest that Gluck is correct.  According to the Japan Times, 80 percent of Japanese atomic bomb survivors said they aren’t seeking an Obama apology during his visit.

Listen to the interview.