Obama’s Hiroshima Speech Was Lovely, Frustrating, and Infuriating

11796415_934981119876529_3032773539452310147_nPresident Obama’s #apology tour keeps a-rollin’ on, am I right? No, hang on.

As unforgivable as Obama has been on foreign policy in myriad ways — and how much worse, perhaps, a Clinton or any Republican ever might be with the help of Obama’s drone precedents — there is something about him which almost looks like better than it could be. At least in certain lights. That is to say, Obama kills people, but he also occasionally appears to notice that the US has made foreign policy mistakes. This is what the hawks and right-wingers dub the apology tour, even though “sorry” never crosses the president’s lips when he’s discussing the heavy handed US response to 9/11, or admitting America’s role in the 1953 coup in Iran.

Obama is the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima. The opening act for his visit to the site of the first nuclear bomb ever dropped on human beings was Secretary of State John Kerry, who went last month. Kerry’s delicate acknowledgement that the bombing was a tragedy gave conservatives a case of indigestion. Obama’s Friday speech may make them lose their minds entirely.

Obama was classy. He placed a wreath at the peace memorial — he visited the museum which contains images of the bombing victims. And his speech has a lot to like. There are lovely words within it. Words about peace, and about the dangers of nuclear weapons — or even other military weapons! Obama extensively hints that people in other countries may be as worthy of life as Americans, noting that the 60 million who died during World War II (which, obviously, also includes Americans) were “Men, women, children, no different than us.”

Obama said, “We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women, and children, thousands of Koreans, and a dozen Americans held prisoner. Their souls speak to us.” Even the American POWs get a shoutout, though they were a tiny minority. But that’s not going to silence the screeching of the hawks.

Apology tour! hissed former US Ambassador to the UN and enormous hawk, John Bolton. Why doesn’t Obama visit Pearl Harbor? snits Victor David Hanson at National Review.

No. But what was it? Vague, and full of platitudes for one thing.

Obama did what leaders do. Poetry made evading details easier — “death fell from the sky” instead of, the Enola Gay dropped a nuclear bomb. For a president, it felt brave. It was admitting that no matter what, World War II was a bloody catastrophe. People like Bolton and Hanson hate that. They appear to think that the US needs to constantly spike the ball of moral righteousness, and then do a dance on the site of each war it has ever fought.

That’s what they mean when they ask why Obama doesn’t visit Dresden or Tokyo to give speeches about war. They would love that — love him to go around the world confirming the greatness of America. To hawks, the US is the kind of big, strong man whose masculinity is somehow forever in doubt and must always be confirmed. American patriotism and greatness is very tough, and very fragile at the same time. How else to interpret this fear of ever saying, yes, this was bad, this killed people, this is not what we picture when we picture a better world?

My reaction to the speech was so much more mixed than the partisans’ (who probably didn’t read the damn thing). The sentiments about peace, and being careful with nuclear weapons are sound. (Hawks also seem to resent even the slightest hint of anti-nuclear sentiment, as if Saint Reagan wasn’t strangely progressive on that front.)

The man delivering them sent the US even farther down a path of easy, permanent war. He has ordered drone strikes that killed American citizens, that killed children, and that killed unnamed individuals who were posthumously dubbed terrorists, because nobody could prove they weren’t, and because their demographic was close enough.

I’m curious what our loyal readers think of the speech. Read the whole thing, and then comment. Is it a good thing to have a president read such words, and to deliver nice platitudes about humanity and the horror of war? Or is it just kind of a farce, considering current US imperialism, and considering Obama’s personal progress on that front? I honestly can’t decide if I’m impressed or horrified by it.

22 thoughts on “Obama’s Hiroshima Speech Was Lovely, Frustrating, and Infuriating”

  1. “Shared Responsibility” That bit is just pure gold, isn’t it? Accountability begins with oneself. Let’s just start with what LeMay and McNamara had to say about the atomic bombings…

  2. I think a guy who dropped 30,000 bombs on Libya in an economically-motivated military action has a lot of nerve talking about a “moral revolution.” He hasn’t a clue what the word ‘morality’ means.

    So in response to your question, yes, I believe it’s something like farce, but more sinister — an Orwellian sabotage of truth itself.

  3. Today I watched Obama’s 8th and final meeting with the Press Corp. There were celebrities and Bernie Sanders and Obama was a fantastic showman. Very funny and oftentimes humble. The complete gambit of emotions, with some sharp-edged satire thrown in. The Presidency is certainly not a job for the thin-shinned and there were the before and afterwards shots of the man who had considerable grey hair after all those years of “the buck stops here” worries. I have long been critical of Obama; however, it was very touching to see him in rare form. He is certainly no John Kennedy “Profiles in Courage” and he followed some very bad advise during his tour of duty. In the end, I think that Obama was relieved, a little bitter, and a very funny guy. It could have been worse, as we are soon to find out.

  4. I recommend reading both these articles and thinking about what each is trying to say about limited nuclear strikes.



    Why would US media start accusing Russia of doing exactly what the Pentagon is doing?

    I think Obama’s trip was probably mostly for his own legacy (he won a Nobel prize, unironically brought to our attention by his staff, for his stance on nuclear disarmament).

    But, there could be a larger policy of anti-nuke rhetoric, and selective calls for disarmament among America’s adversaries. After the nuclear fallout settles, court historians will find it easy to place 100% of the blame on others.

  5. Obama’s hypocrisy is bottomless. He oversees a trillion-dollar upgrade of U.S. nuclear arsenal while squeezing Russia & provoking China.

  6. Well , given the USA baited the Japanese into that war, or more precisely the Brits did, and that it’s been 70 years, better late than never. I suppose in another 70 years if we’re still around, some other bankster’s moll will say the same thing over the dope and oil wars in the ME.

  7. We dropped those two bombs KNOWING we would be killing scores of thousands of children and babies. Try standing before the judgement seat of God and justifying that…

  8. Because the speech was in part disingenuous, and because the crediblity of the speaker in regard to upholding the meaning and spirit of his words is nill, I would say the speech comes to my ears as farcical, political, and tragically ironic.

  9. “An international community established institutions and treaties that work to avoid war and aspire to restrict and roll back and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.” I don’t know that thoughts like this and how Japan and the US forged an alliance are reflections of reality. Japan surrendered and was forced into this relationship because of bombs and killing. It is a bit tough to listen to the good words he speaks in the article. Couple that with the actions of the empire he is the figurehead for and it is a bit too much to bear. Does he really believe them? I don’t think he does. I think he is an evil man who understands that value of great propaganda. Act like a humanitarian while you are killing people? No. It is a bit too much to stomach.

  10. He was being his typical hypocrite with nice rhetoric that was meaningless. He has expanded all wars. He has not rolled back US nukes or disarmed. He has backed Israel as it has become the new Nazi Germany (Palestine has become the death camps and their prisons torture chambers). He has given Hillary a free pass for acts of treason. He has put more truth-tellers behind bars than all sitting Presidents before him and taken away all their rights to earn a living. Kill List. Drone Wars. Both are his legacy. His speech to the Japanese and the world was horrible but typical US BS.

  11. Ordinary people “do not want more war.” But I, Hillary Clinton, George Bush, and others before and after me will insure that we have war without end. We the leaders won’t be affected by the tragedy of war, but it will be those common folks who will pay for our wars with their blood and money.

    This is how I see Obama’s morally obtuse, pretty pile of meaningless schlock.

  12. I give the speech writer credit for getting “unalienable” right. And I give the POTUS handlers credit for letting the speech be read aloud in such a visible forum. In the end though talk is cheap (especially for politicians). Some of the most ruthless also gave pleasant speeches. Peace prize winner Obama has been the mantle piece decoration in place across almost 8 years of unending preparation for the next big war. This does not change his legacy.

    BTW: Your article was worth thinking about. Thanks.

  13. Obama did the same thing here as usual, whether lamenting the death of innocents in America or anywhere else. He separated himself from himself and behaved as a fundamental political schizoid. Oh how terribly sorry he is at what world leaders will do and maybe just maybe sometime in the future these leaders will come to their senses and stop such horrendous actions (which he won’t apologize for) as killing thousands of people one day and more thousands a few days later (as it turns out for political and experimental reasons), or consulting kill lists and sending out drones that butcher people in wedding parties and markets and such. This totally disgusting rhetoric is apparently what he learned how to do in college and as a college professor. The man is a walking schiz caught between pretending to be a moralist and peacemaker while necessarily minister of the hideous, shedding crocodile tears. And, Lucy, you don’t know what to make of this . . . ???? We need leaders who will do the right thing not pretenders whose mission in life is justifying themselves.

  14. Pretty speech. And Obama does indeed seem to be concerned lately with how he will be remembered in the history books.

    In elementary school, I was taught that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. But curiously, Lincoln didn’t care about the issue of slavery one way or the other, and openly said so on more than one occasion. He even offered to enshrine the institution of slavery in the Constitution via the Corwin Amendment to entice seceding states back into the Union. All of this is very inconveniently well-documented history.

    What Lincoln really cared about, put very poetically, was ‘preserving the union.’

    But what did this really mean?

    At the time, most federal revenue was collected in the form of tariffs on imported manufactured goods. Most of those tariffs were collected in the agrarian south. Most of the revenue was spent in the industrial north on what at the time were called ‘internal improvements’ but would now days be called ‘corporate welfare.’

    The reality is that the so-called Civil War was really nothing more than the heinous and bloody suppression of a tax revolt. To bury this fact, pretty speeches were written, and K-thru-12 government indoctrination centers were institutionalized so children could be taught that Lincoln freed the slaves.

    And now Lincoln is celebrated as the greatest president in U.S. history.

    1. “But curiously, Lincoln didn’t care about the issue of slavery one way or the other”

      Not exactly.

      He DID say that if he could win the war/preserve the union without freeing any slaves he’d do so and that if he had to free all of them to win it he’d do that too, so I can see why it would come off that way.

      But, he had a long record of personal opposition to slavery as such, and a long record of POLITICAL opposition to its expansion into new US states and territories.

      1. Thomas L. Knapp: “But, [Lincoln] had a long record of personal opposition to slavery as such, and a long record of POLITICAL opposition to its expansion into new US states and territories.”

        “Roy Basler, the editor of Lincoln’s Collected Works, commented that Lincoln barely mentioned slavery before 1854, and when he did, ‘his words lacked effectiveness’”—Thomas DiLorenzo, ‘The Real Lincoln’

        Lincoln also worked on and promoted legislation that would have deported all black people. He also illegally suspended Habeas Corpus, arrested tens of thousands of political critics, including local elected officials, newspaper editors, and a congressman. He shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers and imprisoned their editors and owners. He showered the railroad corporations who got him elected with millions in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

        The point, which everyone—thanks to their K-thru-12 government indoctrination and a lot of pretty speeches—seems reflexively incapable of not glossing over, is that the so-called Civil War, which murdered hundreds of thousands of people, had nothing to do with freeing the slaves, and everything to do with suppressing a tax revolt.

  15. Platitudes instead of passion. A strange man who talks peace, leaving a legacy of war, but also that odd rare victory over fear with Iran.

  16. It wasn’t much of a tax result. The seceding states made it clear that their reason for seceding was to preserve slavery because they thought Lincoln would suppress it (which, as you point out, was probably a groundless fear — he wanted to stop its expansion but beyond that he wasn’t willing to risk much political capital).

    Yes, Lincoln did a lot of bad things. And no, Lincoln’s purpose in the war wasn’t to end chattel slavery of Africans, nor do most northerners seem to have regarded that as the goal. There was plenty of evil to go around. The south conscripted youth as young as 15, hanged its own secessionists in eastern Tennessee, and didn’t give any more of a damn for “states rights” than DC did.

    1. So what if Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction? He was an evil dictator and deserved to be overthrown.

      (In case it isn’t clear, that was irony.)

  17. Obama’s speech falls in the category of: I can’t hear what you are saying because your actions speak so loudly.

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