United States President Barack Obama visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and met several hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bomb blast) this week. Most of the world seemed to understand why this was important, and the gesture was welcomed in Japan. Here in the USA, the ready-made controversy was over whether or not Obama would apologize for August 6, 1945.
He didn't apologize in his thoughtful remarks, though several of his critics paid no attention to what he actually said and criticized him for apologizing anyway (see "President Obama Gives One of the Most Repulsive Speeches in American History", or Donald Trump's typically offensive and unpresidential reaction, which actually includes the words "Who cares?").
For those us who do care, a perceptive article by Gar Alperovitz in the Nation points to a disturbing conclusion that many have pondered, though this is often not spoken aloud in the USA. The article is titled "The War Was Won Before Hiroshima—And The Generals Who Dropped The Bomb Knew It", and it suggests that Japan could have been persuaded to surrender by August 1945. It's a popular cliche in the USA that we dropped two atomic bombs because this was the only way to end the war without a murderous invasion of the Japanese mainland, and yet the historical record shows that USA and Japan had barely managed to establish basic channels of communication through which Japan's terms of surrender could be discussed. We don't know if Japan might have been persuaded to accept a less apocalyptic path to surrender, but we do know that no serious attempts to open peace negotiations took place before the final stroke that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in two quick blasts.
Donald Trump's "Who Cares?" doesn't speak for us, and doesn't speak for many Americans, or many citizens of planet Earth. What we need isn't an apology from Barack Obama — after all, the bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place sixteen years before he was born. What we need are more invitations to healing, though Obama's visit feels like a single small gesture when perhaps many large gestures are needed. Are you healed yet? Has the world gotten any smarter, or our planet's healthy future any more secure, since 1945? Who will heal us from the new military disasters we are still enabling today, as we continue to puzzle over a past that we still lack the strength or wisdom to fully comprehend?