April may be the cruelest month, but this year May took the cake. It was then that we were reminded that human life is a political football, and that players on both sides of the line of scrimmage are suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
When word came that President Obama was scheduled to appear at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on May 27—the first sitting, standing, or kneeling U.S. president to do so—fear crept in among Mr. Obama’s political critics that he was making another stop on his insufferable apology tour. Of course, the White House denied that this would be the case. And yet, when the speech was finally delivered, and Presidents Obama and Abe bowed and embraced, the critics erupted. Charles Krautham mer unbosomed himself on FOX News, referring to the speech’s “embarrassing utopianism,” which “dishonored our nation.” Angry American Sarah Palin, stumping for Trump, referred to the incineration of so many tens of thousands of Hiroshima’s men, women, and children as the moment when we “put a boot in [their] ass.” “Conservative” blogs demanded that the GOP-controlled Congress censure the President. All in all, the thing was cast as a slap in the face of America’s veterans, just in time for Memorial Day, which was apparently confused with Veterans Day.
The interwebs then exploded with tit-for-tat history lessons on the Japanese Rape of Nanking, which indicated (probably correctly) that a majority of Americans do not know about the decades-long events that led up to the U.S. war in the Pacific. And no, President Abe is not going to go on an apology tour in China, or Korea, or Okinawa. And yes, the pagan Hiroshima shrine does not mention Pearl Harbor but vaguely states “We shall not repeat the evil.” And indeed, according to the Japanese charter, put in place by the United States after World War II came to a close, the Japanese are (still) not allowed to have a military, though they kinda sorta do.
That is actually the point of this foreign-policy p.r. affair. The Obama administration has forged ties with the Abe administration, which is under scrutiny from a significant portion of the Japanese electorate thanks to Abe’s efforts to build an unofficial military. Japan has been a de facto U.S. protectorate for seven decades, a bizarrely modern, secularist society that has made enough yen to buy a significant portion of America and American dollars without having to defend her own borders. This is unsustainable, especially since the U.S. military apparently cannot defend anyone’s borders, the cost of such global policing is in the billions, and North Korea’s Crazy Kim, Japan’s Dear Neighbor, is working on missiles for his nuclear warheads to ride on.
Then again, the Chinese and the South Koreans greatly feared an Obama endorsement, however tacit, of Abe’s militarization, as they would prefer not to worry about another incarnation of the Japanese empire, this time under the veil of modern democracy and in alliance with Washington. Allowing the U.S. to handle and pay for everything is just fine with them.
All of this is part of the Obama “Pivot to Asia,” an economic plan reflected in the TPP, which will enhance the wallets of America’s One Percent and Hillary Clinton’s donors, and continue to ensure that U.S. manufacturing never rises again from the ashes of a cold war fought against the middle class, which flies under the banners of “free trade” and “globalism.” Obama needs a stronger, more nationalist Japan to assume some responsibility for Crazy Kim and provide a check on China.
Rather than see this seemingly maudlin affair for what it really was, the President’s political opponents decided to spin it and throw some red meat to the base. This gave Conservatism, Inc., the opportunity to shred Christian just-war theory publicly, to let their inner Sherman out, to brandish their own mindless nationalism, and to defend that notorious right-winger Tom Brokaw’s entire Greatest Generation, as if the very honor of those heroic veterans who took Iwo Jima and Peleliu—or Normandy Beach, for that matter—were at stake. All of those three-year-old subhuman ninjas had it coming, the mushroom cloud was a mercy, thousands upon thousands of American G.I.’s would have died during a mainland invasion, etc. It’s as if such conservative voices as T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost never had a word to say about the monstrosity unleashed in August 1945—twice—to show Uncle Joe just who’s the boss.
Republicans seem far beyond even the ability to question a nuclear-bombing rationale that included a criterion of “important target in a large urban area.” Instead, National Review’s David French simply replies to his imaginary Obama that “Only fools believe we could have prevailed in a civilizational conflict without resorting to total war,” then inexplicably cites Robert E. Lee’s famous “It is well that war is so terrible; we would grow too fond of it” line—a reaction to one of the bloodiest Confederate victories, at the Battle of Fredericksburg—as proof that total war is sometimes righteous.
Of the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man, C.S. Lewis wrote that “Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs.” Mr. Obama’s speech was actually a subtle articulation of the opposite of that maxim, with mutterings about the need for ever-new morality to keep up with ever-new technology and an implicit reminder to the world that, even though his dreams of a nuclear-free world will never come true during his lifetime, the President standing there who is not named Abe still has access to the button. Obama never condemned the targeting of the men, women, and children who were noncombatants—he only mentioned that they died, invited everyone present to imagine the children’s terror, and called for a continuing “moral revolution.”
It turns out that Obama and his critics have a lot in common.