Sixty-five years after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bomb is still very much with us, and controversy continues to rage over the decision to obliterate the two Japanese cities—sparked this time by President Obama’s decision to send a US envoy to Hiroshima for the official ceremony today, for the first time.
Already some on the right are charging that this amounts to an "apology" for using the bomb against Japan. Warren Kozak, an op-ed writer for the Wall Street Journal, has attacked the whole idea, equating it with President Reagan going to Bitburg and laying a wreath at graves belonging to SS members. Of course, the overwhelming majority of the 130,000 killed in Hiroshima were civilians, mainly women and children.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said US Ambassador John Roos is merely honoring all of the dead of World War II, and expressing the president’s endorsement of severe cutbacks in the global nuclear arsenals. No US president has visited Hiroshima while in office.
Hiroshima, in any case, remains a vital lesson for us all, not only for the first use of a nuclear weapon there but because of the "first use" nuclear policy the US maintains today.
It’s a subject practically off-limits in the media and in American policy circle. Even the current antinuclear documentary Countdown to Zero, which outlines many serious nuclear dangers (from an accidental launch to a terror attack on America), fails to even mention the possibility that the US might choose to use nuclear weapons again. Resisting a no-first-use policy, in fact, has been a cornerstone of US nuclear policy for decades.
Yet despite some positive signs from Obama, I fear that moving very far in the direction of no-first-use is still a long way off in America.
Perhaps the strongest reason is this: most Americans, our media and our leaders (including every president), have endorsed our "first-use" of the bomb against Japan. This remains true today, despite new evidence and analysis that have emerged for so many years. I’ve been writing about this for almost thirty years—even in book form—with little shift in the polls or change in heart among our policymakers and elected officials.
There has also been little change abroad—where the use of the bomb in 1945 has been roundly condemned from the beginning. Indeed, US support, even pride, in our use of the weapon has given us little moral standing in arguing that other countries should not develop nuclear weapons and consider using them, possibly as a first, not a last, resort (that’s our policy, remember).