Nikole Hannah-Jones’s Broken Moral Compass

Career race-baiter and cynical iconoclast Nikole Hannah-Jones was recently back in the news. She is the fabulist inventor of the “1619 Project”—a creative retelling of history effectively reducing this nation, its founders, and its people to little more than unprincipled sponsors of slavery, racism, and other moral failures. They are to be rendered irredeemably guilty for the Original Sin of creating a nation solely to promote, nurture, and perpetuate the enslavement and abuse of Black people from Africa.

It was on her recent visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Japan that she slathered on another generous dollop of shame. “Feeling ashamed of shameful things is not BAD. It’s called being an empathetic and moral human being,” she, tweeted. “Shame helps us do better. When I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum about the impact of the US’s atomic bomb, as an American, I felt shame.” She continued, “As a Black American, I knew the same govt that bombed Japan was also actively segregating Black Americans & tacitly condoning racial terrorism & fascism in the U.S. South, and so even though my people were not responsible, as an American and a human I felt shame. How is this bad?”

Right. America’s dominant pattern of collective immorality all runs together. From her remarks, it seems we can conclude that America’s predisposition for gratuitous acts of depravity is its primary distinguishing characteristic. Our government, apparently, is equally facile at brutalizing persons of African descent and incinerating Japanese people in their homeland.

Hannah-Jones added that the “desire for so many Americans to be free of collective shame, collective atonement and collective responsibility for the shameful legacy of centuries of slavery, racism, apartheid & terroristic violence visited upon fellow citizens is the sign of an immature & selfish culture.”

So, in her tortured reasoning, Americans—the mature and unselfish ones, that is—are all supposed to welcome and luxuriate in their shame, accepting it as their personal leitmotif. Anything short of that would be shallow and unworthy. It emanates from Hannah-Jones’s own leitmotif. From her Twitter utterances it is apparent she views it all through her lens of pervasive racial guilt and brooks no tolerance for those attempting to evade that communal guilt.

Is it reasonable to wonder whether Hannah-Jones has ever considered the counterpart level of shame from colossal loss of life and treasure on both sides if President Harry Truman had instead ordered a full-scale conventional invasion of the Japanese islands? The casualty toll to both sides was estimated to be in the millions. Many shrewd thinkers and analysts have debated the competing strategies and their justifications, and at an intellectual depth likely well surpassing her own, and for more years than she has even walked upon this planet.

Image: Japanese beheading Sgt. Leonard G. Siffleet because that’s how they rolled after instigating their role in WWII. Public domain.

Last year I wrote on this topic, reviewing some of the strategic options proffered and their likely outcomes. Most agree that there were no “good” options, only varying shades of problematic ones, each with its own mix of benefits and risks.

An intellectually honest evaluation of any strategy chosen must rest on what was known at the time. The war had already become the deadliest conflict in history, wreaking catastrophic misery at sea and on land. The overwhelming mood was to “End the War” and do it as quickly as possible.

The American command suddenly held a military means offering enormous potential to fulfill that desperate yearning. And as I noted in my article, the president and his advisors “...couldn’t benefit from the decades of nuclear testing and the insights these would produce and that now inspire our latter-day detractors, smug in their Monday-morning quarterbacking.”

Further, the Japanese military culture was itself fanatically racist, dispensing its fury on anyone not Nipponese. This came to include Filipinos, other Asians, Pacific Islanders, Americans, and Europeans. A great many of them suffered horrific brutality from their invaders and captors. The Nanjing Massacre, 1937-38, remains one of the vilest crimes against humanity in modern times.

This inhumane conduct by the Imperial Japanese Army was suffered deeply by my own father. Karl Fitzgibbons was a young soldier in a tank battalion deployed in September 1941 to the Philippine island of Luzon. Just hours following the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces launched an air attack, followed by the invasion of Luzon. For four months, the American and Filipino forces waged a valiant, but ultimately futile, defense against an overwhelming invasion force, finally surrendering on the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula. Then came the brutal Bataan Death March, followed by harrowing prison camp existence for the remainder of the war.

By 1944 Japan’s combat fortunes were in substantial reverse. To aid its war footing, it took to relocating thousands of prisoners to the homeland, pressing them into slave labor at various industrial sites. Yes, slavery. For Dad, it was at a steel mill on Kyushu.

In the closing months of the war, the Japanese command readied a Kill All Prisoners order to be activated in the event of an invasion. The intent was to prevent uprisings and the likelihood of prisoners organizing into a hostile fighting force. An actual prison camp massacre on the Philippine island of Palawan, on December 14, 1944, demonstrated the Japanese capability and willingness to commit such an atrocity.

Had President Truman ordered an invasion, clearly, hundreds of thousands of prisoners would never live to see another day—that in addition to the already predicted other massive losses. The carnage, unmistakably, would include my father, who would not have made it home alive, would never meet and marry that gentle army nurse, and would never start a family.

And I would not be here to write this.

I accept that gratitude for this outcome might violate Hannah Jones’s moral calculus. Presumably, we offspring of those survivors should steep in our shame and apologize for our guilt at existing, at the cost of so many other lives. But that thinking is, to me, substantially pointless.

After the war, and as part of Dad’s physically and emotionally painful recovery, he unconditionally forgave Japan’s military and citizenry for his mistreatment. Decades later, he and my mother even visited both Bataan and Japan as tourists, in a pilgrimage that was at once healing and cathartic.

It’s my dad’s gentle spirit that inspires my views on matters of hardship, not the hateful vituperations of the “Shame America” crowd. We don’t deserve to be cavalier about survival, but neither should we wallow in self-abasement nor self-pity. Rather, let us, in humbleness, offer thanks each day for each new day of life given to us.

Amen. Let us count our blessings and spurn our grudges.

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