25.05.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Barack Obama to Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

54645654654On May 10, 2016, it was finally announced on behalf of the US administration that US President Barack Obama would visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in the course of a regular G7 summit. The summit scheduled for May 26-27 will be hosted by the resort town of Shima located on Honshu, the main Japanese island, within the borders of the Ise-Shima National Park.

Therefore, the forecast made earlier proved accurate. It would probably be more correct to call it a “statement” rather than a “forecast” since after some Foreign Ministers of the Group of Seven, making last arrangements for the forthcoming summit, visited the Memorial on April 11, it was pretty much a “done deal.”

The fact that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was among them clearly indicated that a critical decision regarding the visit of a US president to the place commemorating the victims of the August 6 and 9, 1945 atomic bombing for the first time in postwar history had been already made.

So, the world just had to wait for the end of a “stage wait.” During this “intermission,” the press got “leaks” indicating that the expediency of such a step as well as its format were still “under consideration.”

Generally speaking, it has been a good topic to reflect upon during the entire postwar period, as it is never easy to make truly reliable predictions of what consequences such steps could have for the domestic policy. And it is especially true for the US where the presidential election race is only intensifying.

It was recently discovered that the possible reaction of Americans to the potential visit of Barack Obama to Hiroshima was tested last fall. The testing was conducted at the instruction of Benjamin J. Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication.

Today Mr. Rhodes underscores that a visit of the American President to Hiroshima will not mean a revision of “the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II“.

When asked by journalists whether Mr. Obama’s visit would imply extending apologies to the Japanese people for the 1945 atomic bombings, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that it would not.

As for the Japanese, being extreme pragmatics, they treat the commemoration of consequences of disasters of such kind solely from the perspective of expediency. What happened, happened. Dead people cannot be resurrected. Therefore, the less the issue is chewed over, the better. The most they can do to pay tribute to the victims is to stand silently in their allocated commemoration place.

Expressing this sentiment, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said on April 24 that his country did not expect any apologies from the US.

Both the attitude of the Japanese public and the statement of the Japanese Foreign Minister simplify Mr. Obama’s task of finally withdrawng the “veil of silence” covering the issue of the American atomic bombings and fulfilling a vital mission with respect to the key ally of the White House.

Washington sees its mission in capping official assessments of the tragedy that shook the world in the middle of the last century (the debates among historians may still continue, though), where the atomic bombings were only the “decisive final act.”

Accomplished in “silent” format, this mission would silence American “falsification of history facts” fighters. Though, most probably, there still be some grumbling about the “insulted memory of our heroic ancestors, veterans of the Pacific War.”

Ultimately, the process has already begun. Some veteran organizations have already contacted President Obama suggesting that he should reconsider his decision and postpone his visit to Hiroshima until the Japanese leadership offers apologies for the mistreatment of American prisoners of war, thousands of whom died in camps.

As for President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, it seems that he will be welcomed there with sincere friendliness. A survey Mainichi Daily News conducted on April 16-17 showed that 74% of Japanese will be happy to see the US President visiting Hiroshima.

And what was China’s reaction to the forthcoming visit of Mr. Obama to the Memorial in Hiroshima? It seems that China’s attitude is determined strictly by the complexity of the current state of Sino-Japanese relations, deteriorating in large part due to the “historical legacy.”

Beijing believes that Tokyo has not made an “honest” assessment of the nature of its participation in WWII, and that the tragic events the Japanese people lived through (including the consequences of the atomic bombings) are just an inevitable penalty for the aggressive policy of Imperial Japan in the Pacific Rim.

Having adopted this vision, China cannot but be concerned over the visit of President Obama to Hiroshima. Moreover, it believes that the visit would imply that the Americans were coming forward with some kind of apology, even if implicit. And that would mean that the fact the Japan unleashed aggression in Asia in the first half of 1930s would be downplayed.

Thus, the visit of the US President to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial commemorating the victims of 1945 atomic bombings will inevitability aggravate the current situation in the Pacific Rim and in the world as a whole.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.