President Obama's Trip to Hiroshima: Empathy Without Apology

Updated on June 16, 2016

The Tragedy of War

Not surprisingly, President Obama has received some criticism for his recent visit to Hiroshima. Those on the right of the political spectrum have called it another stop on the President's apology tour. This criticism, like many that have come before, is a thinly veiled claim that Obama hates America. The fact that the President never actually apologized for the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan has done little to quell the accusation. In a country where Donald Trump is now the Republican nominee, it's clear that many Americans do not believe that Barack Hussein Obama is a real American. A real American would know that Japan attacked the United States first and that a full-scale invasion of Japan would have been far worse (on both sides) than dropping two atomic bombs.

The criticism of Obama, as is often the case, has also come from those on the left. Some find it offensive that President Obama, like his predecessors, did not apologize for this war crime. The established narrative, the claim that the dropping of the atomic bombs was necessary in order to save lives and hasten the end of the war, has been challenged by many historians. This therefore represents one of many injustices carried out by the United States for which the government has refused to apologize. By refusing to acknowledge its mistakes of the past, American claims to be a force for democracy, freedom, and justice ring hollow to many around the world.

But if the President was not there to express any spoken or unspoken message of apology to Japan, then why did he decide to be the first president to visit the Hiroshima memorial? If you believe what he said in his speech, it was simply to honor those who died there and to remind the world of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons and by war in general. Acknowledging that a tragedy occurred, and expressing the desire that people will never have to experience something like this again, is not the same thing as making an apology. Whether the killing of others during a war was justified or not, the deaths are still a tragedy. War, by definition, is a tragedy.

War also seems to bring out patriotism like nothing else, and there is something heartwarming about seeing people waving flags, singing patriotic songs, and honoring the sacrifices made by their countrymen. The trouble with patriotism, however, is that it often taps into our tribal instincts. In order to rally together to protect our interests and to justify the violent actions that may sometimes be necessary, we inevitably dehumanize to some degree the foreigners who threaten or fight us. But what makes us humans unique is our capacity to overcome animalistic instincts and empathize with other humans. Without continually developing and enhancing this capacity for empathy, we humans can easily fall into the conflicts so common in our species' past.

So when President Obama or any other leader honors those who have suffered and died in a tragic place, these ceremonies at their best are recognitions of our common humanity. And while it is important to study the past - I am a history teacher after all - it is equally important to not get stuck in the past. Harboring grudges or seeking revenge is not going to do anything to bring back the dead or undo decisions that were made. Most people, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or religion, have no desire to fight wars. And one of the best ways to avoid future conflicts is to recognize this simple fact and to try and put ourselves into other people's shoes. You don't have to apologize for the past to sit down with your former enemies and work to avoid the tragedies of the past.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Freeway Flyer profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Swendson 

      22 months ago

      Thank you. (I would have thanked you earlier, but I did not received about a year's worth of comments until recently. I have no idea why.)

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      This is an excellent, well-balanced Hub that examines Presidents Obama's trip, what he really said, and the political reaction from both the right and the left. I will be passing this on the my friends and college students. Thank you.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, soapboxie.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://soapboxie.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)