President 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.
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.