I read the speech President Obama gave in Hiroshima on May 27, and he made no apology. His visit was met with right-wing condemnations like this one from the Gateway Pundit: “The jackass apologized for American actions in World War II and ignored the evils of Imperial Japan.” Actually, Obama was there not to re-litigate our dropping of the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, but to mourn the dead (including Koreans and American prisoners killed by the blast) and call for eliminating nuclear weapons.
Those who accuse Obama of treason love to invoke their war-veteran fathers, so I will invoke mine. PFC Jack Rosendall was captured by Rommel’s Afrika Korps at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in Tunisia in February 1943. He wrote in his diary on January 24, 1945, after the Germans ordered the American prisoners to evacuate ahead of the Russian army:
“Handed out prunes, raisins and chocolate to kids. – hour later were literally mobbed…. The German children are beautiful – the girls give us an old-fashioned curtsy upon receiving anything. Many of the tots have never tasted chocolate. – How can these cute children grow up to be such inhuman beasts?”
On February 3, 1945, Jack played checkers in a farmhouse in Bahrenbruch while the hausfrau’s 6-year-old daughter sat in his lap. The next morning she had a fever, so he made her beef broth with bouillon cubes from home.
Dad refused to buy anything labeled “Made in Japan” for our postwar household. But the only events from the war years that he spoke about were funny anecdotes. The questions I have for him now arose when I encountered his younger self in his diary after his death.
Someone by the name Freeinaz commented below the Gateway Pundit item, “27 Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to U.S. Military personnel for the battle of Iwo Jima. That was 25% of ALL Medals of Honor awarded to Marines for all of WWII. And this sorry excuse for a President slapped them all in the face with his ignorance.”
On the contrary, the president honored America’s best traditions and values. The hibakusha, or atomic blast survivor, whom he embraced had spent years researching and looking for the families of the American prisoners who died there. Our nations are now allies. The war ended 71 years ago. How long must we act like sore winners? Seeking to prevent such tragedies from recurring is neither an apology to our former enemy nor a slap to veterans. Or does Memorial Day celebrate bellicosity?
There is something oddly fragile in the super-patriot stance that allows no room for finding lessons in past conflicts, but instead demands only praise. Surely we have taken enough victory laps. Considering our investment in blood and treasure, we can afford a post mortem. It hardly projects strength to insist on being humored like a delusional patient, basking in canned applause while belittling those who work to address new threats.
President Obama had the wisdom and the guts to push successfully for the removal of chemical weapons from Syria; to reach a multilateral nuclear accord with Iran; to lead nearly two hundred nations in a climate change agreement; to re-establish relations with Cuba after 54 years of a failed policy; and to go to Hiroshima. He is a true statesman, prepared to use force if necessary but also committed to diplomacy, whose tools include things like cooperation and respect. As a hint of his global stature, rural Zimbabweans refer to American dollars, their preferred currency, as Obamas.
Had my father lived to meet my partner Patrick, who is from the Congo, I like to think he would have overcome his opposition to “race mixing” and embraced the man I love. I like to think Obama’s act of healing in Hiroshima would have moved him as it did me. But when I left my father’s house, I no longer required his approval. My generation, and the one that has followed, can uphold Obama’s reshaping of American foreign policy for a new century, or let it be trashed by those locked in the bitterness of the past. My candidate is Hillary Clinton. She was Obama’s Secretary of State.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.