In 2009, President Obama articulated his dream for a world free of nuclear weapons. But reality intruded on his utopian vision that day when North Korea launched a long-range missile designed to target the United States with nuclear weapons. Since then, Pyongyang has continued to augment its nuclear arsenal.
As the end of his presidency approaches, Obama seeks to resurrect his naïve quest in Hiroshima, needlessly resurrecting painful and contentious historic issues. That the administration — and the president himself — had to rebuff questions as to whether he would apologize for the bombing that ended World War II reflects poorly on his actions.
The administration declared that the president’s trip will be focused on the future. But his trip is fraught with potential for misinterpretation.
In describing the visit, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes repeatedly emphasized that the president would highlight the loss of innocent lives, not only from the “extraordinary loss of life of innocent Japanese civilians” at Hiroshima but also the overall “toll that war takes on innocent life.” Rhodes said Hiroshima and Nagasaki are symbols of “the toll of nuclear weapons.”
Absent from Rhodes’ narrative, and potentially from the president’s visit, is historic context — from the 2,403 innocents killed at Pearl Harbor to the millions of American, Allied and Japanese casualties spared by the rapid culmination of the war in August 1945.
Obama’s presence could also undermine burgeoning efforts at Japanese-South Korean reconciliation. The visit will affirm the Korean view that Washington has “chosen” Tokyo over Seoul and now accepts revisionist history depicting Japan as the victim.
Hiroshima reflects the tragedy not just of a weapon of war, but of aggressive regimes and the wars they impose. The Axis Powers are gone, but modern-day despots remain. More important than an end to nuclear weapons, President Obama should instead call upon all nations to band together against totalitarian regimes that still seek to impose their will over weaker neighbors.
Originally published in USA Today