Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The memory of the use of the first nuclear bomb that brought the second great global inferno to an end continues to weigh on the collective consciousness despite the passing of more than 71 years since the tragic military intervention that obliterated the civilian population. Not only for the nuclear bombing, but in great part because of it, the 20th century has earned the notoriety as the most violent century in human history.

Because of their massive destructive power, nuclear weapons represent a huge contradiction that surrounds the power of international politics: It is desirable to eliminate them, but their possession carries strength and status. Moreover, it is clear that weapons of mass destruction affirm what specialists have conceptualized as mutually-assured destruction. In a hypothetical showdown between holders of nuclear weapons, there would be no winners or losers given the magnitude of devastation that would be caused globally. Thus it is both foolish and practical to develop, possess, and potentially use weapons of mass destruction.

As it is well known, in these seven decades, scientific advancement also has become present in the sophistication of weaponry in general. This includes nuclear weapons which are now deadlier, although less so than before given the reductions in recent decades due to international treaties and commitments among nations that hold such weapons. Any reduction in armament is good news, except for the fact that, at least in this case, science and applied technology have made weapons more powerful – and therefore some may be eliminated – and trials to test their effectiveness no longer require actual explosions but just a computer laboratory. Probably the only moderately encouraging news regarding this in the current international scene is the deal reached between the United States and Iran, backed by the major world powers (the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia) plus Germany, to prevent the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons, at least for a time that is hoped to be extended. It remains to be seen, however, the long-term effectiveness of this agreement which is complex both in its composition and implementation.

While the nuclear bombings in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, this May, President Obama recently visited the monument in tribute to the direct and indirect victims of the explosions. The monument is built in a vacant field caused by the explosion in the city of Hiroshima and has brought to mind, even months in advance of the August anniversary, a remembrance not exempt of symbolism and open contradictions.

In theory, the gesture of a U.S. president in office, the first in history to pay respects, is laudable. However, this is just a scratch on the surface of his original promises to seek out a world free of nuclear weapons which earned him – hastily – the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The question if he should apologize or not seems trivial to the substantive issue, or at least included as a portion thereof, that there has been no concrete progress to the promises made by a leader surrounded by an aura of peace that is more virtual than actual. It is not surprising that a U.S. head of state does not make acts of contrition, if you think about it even for a minute, since their military action throughout history is due to a supposed manifest destiny.

More than the relevance or not of the apologies, it is important what such an act would imply for the rejuvenation and deepening of the special relationship between the United States and Japan, particularly with the evolution of Asia in which the Chinese presence represents a growing challenge to the stability of the transpacific alliance as well as Vietnam, another one of the stops the U.S. President will make during his tour of the region. It should not be overlooked that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate went all out in announcing the lifting of the arms embargo on the Vietnamese regime.

It would probably be unfair to directly blame Obama for his responsibility in this deep contradiction because it largely falls on those who carelessly granted him the most prestigious distinction that exists in the international system to recognize individuals and organizations working on behalf of world peace. As president of a country that does not have friends but rather interests, to paraphrase a classic [tenet] of political realism, it is clear that he opted to deliver the message of the nation and not that of the emissary of peace.

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