President Obama last week became the first sitting US president to visit the site of the first nuclear bomb dropped on a defenceless civilian population. Over 140,000 people were killed on the 6th of August 1945, or thereafter as a result of poisoning and cancers caused by radiation.
The symbolism is high, surely it will go down in the history books that Obama was the first US president to visit Hiroshima, just as they will inform future generations that Obama was the first US president to visit Cuba.
These actions are important, yet they cannot be taken as 100% of the evidence on which we are to judge this President. We must also look at other actions because it is only when we look at the actions and then compare them to the words, that we can truly find the evidence on which to base a judgement.
Let’s take Obama’s speech in Hiroshima and deconstruct it, compare it to his and his administration’s actions, and let’s see what we find. Let’s also be on the lookout for reinterpretations of history and conveniently worded statements that try to paint humanity in such a way as to justify wars and violence.
“The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations.”
We disagree. First of all the war didn’t end with the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite the myth that has been conveniently developed in subsequent decades, and taught in Western schools in order to justify the military doctrine of nuclear deterrence. The war with Japan was effectively ended when the Soviet Union announced their invasion of Japan on the 9th of August and has been convincingly argued by the US author, Ward Wilson in his excellent book, “Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons.” The nuclear bombs weren’t necessary to bring the war to an end, but were necessary to inflict revenge on Japan, to justify the enormous expense of the nuclear weapons programme and to impose the USA as the most powerful nation on Earth on the post-war geopolitical stage.
Second, the war was not fought among nations, the war was fought between elites who wantonly and cruelly used their own countrymen and women to fight in distant lands and to die and to inflict death on others in the most brutal of ways. The vast majority of soldiers, from poor, working class backgrounds, were manipulated and forced into fighting in a war they didn’t understand and that should never have been started in the first place, had those same elites at the end of the First World War not imposed such repressive economic austerity on the losing countries.
“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.”
Again, we disagree. There is no “base instinct for domination or conquest” in the human species. It is not part of our DNA. Violence is something learned from the moment we are born as human beings. It is endemic in the family environment, at school and in our national cultures.
When physical violence erupts in an individual or in a group, it is because there has been unbearable economic, psychological and/or racial suffering, among others. The fact that the law only deals with physical violence, shows that the law has not been developed sufficiently in order to prevent human pain and mental suffering.
We are not the same primitive beings from ancient times, human beings are evolving, our consciousness is developing and our capacity for empathy and solidarity are also evolving. Yet the vast majority of human beings have difficulty to fully enjoy these capacities because their freedom and their capacity to decide their own future has been taken away from them by a system that favours a small number of increasingly wealthy people who feel free to subject myriad forms of violence on the vast global population.
Despite what we are led to believe, violence is not a natural human trait, violence is a learnt and acquired behaviour, just as nonviolence can be learnt and acquired.
“An international community established institutions and treaties that work to avoid war and aspire to restrict and roll back and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.”
The most cynical of all the sentences in Obama’s speech. Treaties are not aspirations. Treaties are legal instruments and ratifying countries are legally bound to the terms set out in them. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty says:
“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
The NPT came into force in 1970. 46 years later, and 71 years after Hiroshima, there is neither cessation of the nuclear arms race nor are there negotiations of a treaty on disarmament.
Moreover, Obama’s administration has done more to increase global tensions and taken the least steps towards nuclear disarmament than any other administration before it.
To give some examples of this hypocrisy between what Obama says and what he does, the US has announced plans to spend 1 trillion US dollars over the next 30 years on their nuclear weapons programme, new military bases have been installed close to Russia’s borders, and significantly, the USA works actively to block all international attempts to advance measures for disarmament. Earlier this month one hundred nations met in Geneva to discuss such measures in the absence of ANY nuclear weapon state – in breach of NPT obligations.
“We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves.”
The means to defend ourselves? Let’s consider this. Recent atmospheric modelling suggests that a limited conflict of 100 nuclear bombs dropped on cities will bring an end to human civilization as we know it: there are over 15,000 of them in existence. A global famine would be unleashed, global trade would cease, local conflict would increase, nuclear power plants would likely be affected resulting in meltdowns and humanity would be driven back to the stone age. Those who survive would prefer suicide than a post-nuclear-war world to live in.
In what scenario has the US or any other country ever been able to defend itself with the use of nuclear weapons? The answer is never and there is no scenario in which a nuclear war could only be fought with a handful of nuclear weapons. All scenarios of nuclear war would inevitably lead to the annihilation of the human race. How is this “defending ourselves”? The madness of the nuclear security doctrine is that “if you bomb us with nuclear weapons then we’ll destroy the entire planet in revenge”.
“Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.”
Finally we find something we can support whole-heartedly. And as Obama speaks these words he himself should have reflected profoundly on them.
His administration has unleashed merciless wars affecting millions of innocent civilians and causing the biggest migration crisis since the Second World War. His administration has murdered hundreds of thousands of human beings. How can he say those words above and not be reminded of what he has done?
He is right though. We, the vast, vast majority of the world’s population do not want more war. And the choices that he made should have reflected this simple wisdom and the lesson of Hiroshima.
Yes, History will say that Obama visited Hiroshima, and yet despite all his good words, in our judgement, his gesture is empty. Reconciliation has not started, and the world is a much more dangerous place to live in than it was 8 years ago before he came to power.