Obama at Hiroshima

President Obama’s scheduled May 27 visit to Hiroshima, Japan underscores the fading memory of history by successive generations.  As decades pass, new political filters erase and attempt to rewrite the realities and suffering we experienced from Japan’s treachery in World War II.  There’s a strong whiff in recent media stories of White House appeasement, seeking to convince us that Obama’s Hiroshima visit is not what it is.

Be assured, however, the ceremonial-inclined Japanese will view the visit as an apology.  And if so, it is an unsettling abandonment of the precious U.S. lives lost and risked to protect this country from ruthless Japanese aggression during WWII.  My generation cannot ignore the costs in American – and Japanese – lives had the atomic bomb not been used to end the war.  The alternative, an invasion of Japan, would have meant millions more American and Japanese casualties, far more than were killed by the atomic bomb, and a much longer war.

An apology is inconceivable knowing that Emperor Hirohito had given orders to all Japanese military and civilians to fight to the death.  An invasion of the Japanese homeland would have meant up to 4 million additional American and 10 million Japanese casualties, rates based on the actual American casualties in the war to date.  Japan’s frenzied kamikaze attacks made it clear the emperor’s orders would have been followed.  After the atomic bombs were dropped, Hirohito ordered all resistance to stop and voided the “fight to the death” order, preventing the combined casualty estimates as high as 14 million.  Our brave decisions and actions saved millions of lives, both American and Japanese.

Also forgotten are other truths about Japan at the time: a brutal invasion of Manchuria; the infamous rape of Nanking; the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor; the Bataan death march; the torture, starvation, and mass killings of prisoners of war; the use of Korean women as sex slaves; and the use of American prisoners of war for testing biological weapons.

More appropriate would be an official visit by the Japanese emperor and prime minister, not to apologize for starting the war (an apology they have already made), but to apologize for their WWII atrocities, to thank the U.S. for preventing even greater war casualties; to give thanks for America’s civil treatment of Japanese POWs; and, especially, to thank the U.S. for our uncommonly generous postwar investment and rebuilding of their country, turning it into a democracy and economic powerhouse as one of the world’s strongest economies.