Three days ago, on May 27, 2016, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president in over seventy years to visit the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The visit itself was met with criticism by those who feared he might apologize for the actions of war-time necessity by the United States by use of the atomic bomb.
If you have not yet listened to the entirety of the president’s speech, I encourage you to do so.
If you’d prefer to read it, you can find the transcript here.
Know that no apology was made. Know that restoration of peace is a worthy and upright goal. Know that American lives lost are absolutely worth mourning. Mourn them. Remember them. Honor them.
But if you truly believe that all life is sacred, as so many of you who tout this ultra-patriotic “I will not apologize” banner do, then know that the lives of those innocents taken at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at our hands matter just as much as the lives of those taken at Pearl Harbor. Not more so, not less than.
And I am proud of President Obama for doing what no other sitting president since the bombings has been able to do. Imagine the courage it must have taken to stand before natives and survivors in that city and speak for a nation that did them wrong in such a tragic and evil way.
You can say that it was not a mistake, that it was the right thing to do at the time, that it ended the World War and ushered in an era of peace, that it allowed our servicemen to come home to live their lives in freedom with their families. Whatever it is you have to say to feel proud about that “greatest generation” and the values we had as Americans back then.
But I’m here to tell you that perhaps this is the wrong thing to be proud of, and the wrong time to be proud.
Perhaps it was the best call to be made at the time, but that doesn’t mean it was right. Only the lesser of evils as determined by those who were tasked with making that impossible decision. Perhaps it ended the war and left us with peace, but those murdered by the bombs’ blasts or left to “live” in their aftermath knew no such reality.
I am reminded of a reader’s opinion that I read in a local newspaper years ago when news came of Osama bin Laden‘s death. Here is that piece as published in the Belleville News-Democrat in May 2011:
The wrong time to celebrate
Osama bin Laden was a villain. He deserved to be brought to justice. However, when we react to his death in the same way his supporters react to American deaths, dancing in the streets and waiving flags, we have already lost the battle.
One 9/11 first responder spoke on TV with tears in his eyes. He knew bin Laden’s death would not bring back those killed on 9/11. This is the proper reaction to death.
Those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers would do well to remember the words of God in the book of Ezekiel: “As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”
I pray for the families of 9/11 victims and victims of hate and vengeance throughout the world.
That is what I want to remember this Memorial Day; that America’s decision to use atomic weaponry and slaughter hundreds of thousands of people, while perhaps it needed to be done, it is nothing to boast about. It is nothing to raise our American flags and sing praises about. It is nothing to scorn our president for trying to commemorate the lives lost there.
Maybe this Memorial Day, we remember not only the ones we lost, but the ones they lost, too.
And maybe this Memorial Day, we honor the lives of the heroes who have given us our freedom by recognizing that all of the lives lost in the war were lost to our benefit. Not just American lives. Our freedom is ours because of lives lost and blood shed on every side. And those men, women, and children who lost theirs in another land so that we might be able to call ourselves free should not be forgotten.