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When Jon Stewart Apologized—for Calling Harry Truman a 'War Criminal' | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

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When Jon Stewart Apologized—for Calling Harry Truman a 'War Criminal'


Jon Stewart. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

In a piece here this week, I accused Harry Truman of perpetrating a “war crime” with his failure to pause after the Hiroshima bombing (itself a highly questionable act) to see if it, along with the Soviet declaration of war, would produce a swift Japanese surrender. He didn’t, and on August 9, the second atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, killing another 90,000, the vast majority women and children.

This remind me of an episode in the spring of 2009 featuring, of all people, Jon Stewart.

One night he bravely (if off-handedly) suggested that President Harry Truman was a “war criminal” for using the atomic bomb against Japan without any prior warning. He explained: “I think if you dropped an atomic bomb fifteen miles off shore and you said, ‘The next one’s coming and hitting you,’ then I would think it’s okay. To drop it on a city, and kill 100,000 people. Yeah, I think that’s criminal.” (Actually, the United States used the bomb on two cities, killing 250,000.)

After he got a good deal of flak overnight, he offered a rare on-air, and abject, apology. (He could have at least said, Yeah, war criminal for Nagasaki, not so much for Hiroshima.) As I’ve documented in three books, this shows how the use of the bomb against Japan remains a “raw nerve” or “third rail” in America’s psyche, and media. Here’s the transcript, with the hard-to-watch video below:

The other night we had on Cliff May. He was on, we were discussing torture, back and forth, very spirited discussion, very enjoyable. And I may have mentioned during the discussion we were having that Harry Truman was a war criminal. And right after saying it, I thought to myself: that was dumb. And it was dumb. Stupid in fact.

So I shouldn’t have said that, and I did. So I say right now, no, I don’t believe that to be the case. The atomic bomb, a very complicated decision in the context of a horrific war, and I walk that back because it was in my estimation a stupid thing to say. Which, by the way, as it was coming out of your mouth, you ever do that, where you’re saying something, and as it’s coming out you’re like, ‘What the f**k, nyah?’

And it just sat in there for a couple of days, just sitting going, ‘No, no, he wasn’t, and you should really say that out loud on the show.’ So I am, right now, and, man, ew. Sorry.

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