PRESIDENT OBAMA’S HIROSHIMA VISIT: AMERICA LOOKS LONG TERM
From the White House
By: Harry C. Blaney III
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S QUOTES: JAPAN
“Our visit to Hiroshima will honor all those who were lost in World War II and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons as well as highlight the extraordinary alliance that we have been able to forge over these many decades… One of the things I hope to reflect on when I’m at Hiroshima and certainly something I reflected on when I was in Vietnam was just a reminder that war involves suffering…We should always do what we can to prevent it.”
— Barack Obama, Joint Press Conference in Shima City, Japan, May 25, 2016
“The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well…That is why we come to this place. We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow…Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”
— Barack Obama, speech at Hiroshima, May 27, 2016. For full text, click here.
Often there are acts by leaders that have a significance beyond the events themselves. Three key examples of such events were President John Kennedy’s visit to Berlin and the visits to Cuba and Vietnam by President Barack Obama. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima is another such act. All of these represented acknowledgment of America’s new role in a fast changing and very complex conflict-ridden world. With his three visits, Obama is saying that we need new bold policies and approaches in new and rapid changing circumstances.
The Hiroshima ceremonies and statements by Obama and his staff indicate that his actions are not only symbols; they are meant to influence our national thinking, the cooperation of our allies, and citizens around the world – even those of our geopolitical rivals. His speeches at every stop resonate with a call to cooperative action.
Cooperative action is one clear element in Obama’s “grand strategy” – and yes you skeptics and naysayers, he does have a “grand strategy” – even though “micro” strategies or tactics may appear sometimes to veer from that goal. Obama says that, in our complex global environment, this is sometimes a necessity in order to achieve other “grand” objectives. He said this, in effect, in his Howard University address recently.
His visits to Cuba, Vietnam, and now Japan and Hiroshima signify a new assessment of the global landscape and search for a wider “common ground” upon which a twenty-first century America can work productively to ensure greater security for not only itself but also for whole regions, share prosperity through economic cooperation, and, importantly, leave a wiser and more careful military footprint. We have seen this in Obama’s articulation of the necessity for America to work with others rather than simply using its power in crude and stupid ways, as in Iraq.
President Obama’s Hiroshima visit thus is more than an effort to come to terms with the horrendous tragedy of the use of nuclear weapons. It is a key move of reconciliation with and support for Japan, our ally, in a “dangerous neighborhood.” It highlights his eight-year endeavor to tame the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, dangers of fissile material in hands of those without consciences, and to better reduce and safeguard nuclear weapons globally – all through many arms control initiatives. We should not lose sight of Obama’s ultimate goal to seek a reduction and ultimate elimination of the risk of nuclear weapons. In a briefing for reporters on May 20, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said “we do hope that in visiting Hiroshima, we’re able to once again spotlight the imperative that the world has to seek a reduction and ultimate elimination of the risk of nuclear weapons.”
Obama’s goals have been opposed bitterly by the Republican hawks in Congress and their likely candidate in November, who opposed the Iran deal, are pushing for more – not less – nukes, and are advocating for dangerous new military adventures. President Putin’s aggressions, rearming efforts, and rejection of further arms control accords show not American weakness but Russia’s desperate perspective on its future and reckless risk taking. China’s own new escalation adds to the challenges. But those challenges should not deter our dialogue with these key nations. This is, as Obama and others have noted a “long-game,” as was the Cold War, which ended without a nuclear war.
Obama’s plea is for wise leaders in America and with our allies, not stupid and reckless types which are sadly on the horizon at home and in some countries abroad. All of this calls for all sides to rethink, not for added escalation, but for concerted and firm cooperation among regional partners and with diplomacy of the highest order. Yes, we should strengthen alliances, but couple them with a patient approach of constructive outreach and strong inducements against those that would act in reckless ways.
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