President Obama was right to go to
I dug out my copy of Truman's war memoirs and it is stunning to realize how little time and discussion there was about the question of whether or not to use the bomb. Secretary of War Henry Stimson led a committee which considered doing a demonstration explosion, but worried that if the bomb did not go off, the demonstration would be a bust. Truman himself seemed unlikely to worry the issue too much: At the same
Obama correctly placed the attack on
The world war that reached its brutal end in
Hiroshimaand Nagasakiwas fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.
In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us. Shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death. There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war, memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism, graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity.
The attack on
The shift was morally stupid as well. The distinction between combatant and non-combatant had long been a cornerstone of just war theory and, consequently, the laws of war. And, this adoption of strategic bombing invited the only kind of retaliation possible: More of the same. The British, and later the Americans, began bombing the cities of
President Obama tried to draw the appropriate moral lesson. E. J. Dionne, in a commentary in the Washington Post yesterday, noted that the president’s speech at
This difference is consequential and leaves Obama open to the charge that his morals are never permitted to interfere overmuch with his politics. The president stated:
Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction. How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.
How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.
President Obama cannot name the "core contradiction" which is sin, and sin includes not only the way social innovation can blind us to a certain truth, but so can the desire for social innovation which seems to afflict Obama. Nor, obviously, would he be willing to acknowledge the violence to the unborn that he justifies in the name of women’s rights. More on point, the president also does not seem overly concerned that the same calculus which led Harry Truman to drop the atomic bomb as a way of averting an invasion of
I understand that as we look at the prospect of a successor who does not even pretend to be serious, Obama is looking better all the time. Still, the way he closed his speech was chilling. He said: "The world was forever changed here. But today, the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose: a future in which
Dionne notes that Reinhold Niebuhr eventually dialed back his initial condemnation of the decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, or at least to avoid being overly harsh on those who made the decision, "statesmen ... driven by historic forces more powerful than any human decision." I think that is very true and very fair but, in this case, it also tells against Obama. Days before making his historic visit to
I am glad Obama went to
[Michael Sean Winters is a Visiting Fellow at Catholic University's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]