Secretary of State John Kerry toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum in Japan this week, a month before he and President Obama will meet foreign ministers at the G-7 Summit. Reuters reported that he witnessed "haunting displays [of] photographs of badly burned victims, the tattered and stained clothes they wore and statues depicting them with flesh melting from their limbs."
"It is a stunning display. It is a gut-wrenching display," explained Kerry. "It is a reminder of the depth of the obligation every one of us in public life carries ... to create and pursue a world free from nuclear weapons." Iran would exempt itself, of course.
But is this really the lesson of Hiroshima? That those in public life have an obligation to do away with nuclear weapons? A lot of people might argue that the existence of those weapons has saved lives from broader world conflicts and conventional warfare. That includes ending World War II sooner.
Last week, The Washington Post dutifully reported, "In Hiroshima, Kerry won't apologize for atomic bombs dropped on Japan." Technically, he didn't. What we witnessed was one of the administration's inverted non-apology apologies.
There's a lot of speculation Obama will visit Hiroshima during the summit and offer some sort of apology. (If we're to believe WikiLeaks, U.S. officials have been wrestling with the idea of having Obama apologize for the Hiroshima attacks for a while now.)
Doing so would comport well with his history, but it would not be a great leap for Obama. Having a high-ranking American official visit the museum already lends credence to the Japanese notion that the U.S. bombing was gratuitous. On top of that, Kerry blames nuclear weapons — rather than Japan's fanaticism and nihilism — for Hiroshima.
If the Obama administration is intent on historical scorekeeping, there's plenty to talk about. Japan aligned itself with one of the great murder regimes of the 20th century (though it needed no help initiating its attack) and launched numerous invasions that cost the U.S. hundreds of thousands of lives and billions in treasure in order to fight back and create a stable, liberal state after the war.
It's not like the Japanese have ever truly apologized for the butchery, assault, destruction and aggression that made Hiroshima a reality. Has any Japanese foreign minister or prime minister strolled through the gut-wrenching exhibit about the Nanking massacre? The first time any Japanese official apologized for the Bataan Death March was 2009 — and he was only an ambassador.
Of course, revisiting Japan's 75-year-old offenses at a G-7 Summit would be ridiculous and counterproductive. But so is the compunction of Obama's officials to acknowledge or apologize for the alleged sins and moral deficiencies of the U.S. every time it gets in an international flight — a grating habit since 2009.
After all, Kerry could have said that Hiroshima was "a reminder of the depth of the obligation every one of us in public life carries to stop extremist regimes from obtaining nuclear weapons." Or he might have said that Hiroshima was "a reminder of the depth of obligation every person in public life carries to ensure that we are well-prepared for the next force that threatens peace."
American officials can acknowledge the catastrophe of war and the destructive capability of nuclear weapons — for even in the context of World War II warfare, the instantaneous carnage of the atom bomb was especially horrifying — without visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or apologizing. Surely, those in the firebomb attacks in Dresden (and Tokyo, for that matter) saw thousands of badly burned victims in tattered clothes with skin melting from their limbs. It's going to be a long tour of apologies if we take this route.
Now, it's a shame evil regimes start world wars that other nations are forced to win. But without the use of atomic weapons, World War II would likely have been prolonged. I realize historians debate how many Americans would have been saved without them. But at the very least, President Truman's intention was not to murder civilians indiscriminately, but to end the war in the Pacific.
Most reasonable people, even those who believe a war was wrong, mishandled or fought poorly, can probably concede that since the start of the 20th century, the U.S. has not entered into conflict with intent to steal oil, exact revenge on civilians, or drop atom bombs for kicks. It is far more inclined to fight wars to try to create democracies or spread freedom (however misguided and botched those efforts sometimes are). And post-war Japan is proof that Americans, unlike many other people around the world, don't really hold grudges. So, though we are imperfect, we are not equally culpable. Not even close.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of "The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy." Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi. To find out more about David Harsanyi and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.