On Refusing Apology for the Nuking of Civilians by Jeremy R. Hammond

by Jeremy R. Hammond
Featured Writer
Foreign Policy Journal
6 August, 2010

Japan on Friday marked the 65th anniversary of the nuclear bomb attack on Hiroshima. U.S. Ambassador John V. Roos attended the annual ceremony that marks the event. It was the first time a U.S. official had done so. The New York Times explains the reason:

Until Friday, American officials had always skipped the annual ceremony, fearing their presence would renew the debate over whether the United States should apologize for the World War II bombings, which together killed more than 200,000 people in explosions so intense that many victims were vaporized, leaving only ghostly shadows on walls, while others died in agony from burns and radiation sickness.

Such a debate would probably be politically divisive in the United States and could even drive a wedge between America and Japan, one of Washington’s closest allies. American officials have long defended the bombings as having shortened the war and avoided an invasion, which they say would have cost untold thousands of American and Japanese lives. But many Japanese see the attacks as the epitome of the indiscriminate slaughter of modern warfare, and a principal reason for Japan’s postwar pacifism.

So, U.S. officials never attended the ceremony before yesterday because the U.S. refuses to apologize for a massacre of innocent civilians 65 years ago.

That in itself is instructive enough, but what’s even more enlightening is the logic employed by which the conclusion is arrived at that no apology is necessary. Since an invasion of Japan would have cost thousands of lives of soldiers, and since the bombing ended the war and thus helped avoid an invasion, therefore the bombing was legitimate.

The first problem with this logic is the premise that an invasion would have been necessary. But let’s just assume, for argument’s sake, that it would have been.

We thus arrive at the second problem with this logic, which is in the assumption that it’s okay to kill civilians in order to prevent the loss of life of soldiers. This is an interesting standard for a nation to apply.

Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d) defines “terrorism” as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

So, you see, the nuking of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) was not “terrorism”, because it was done by a nation, and not by subnational actors. For nations, the bar is raised higher. Nations don’t commit mere terrorism; they commit the more serious offenses of aggression and war crimes.

So was this massacre of hundreds of thousands of civilians a war crime? By contemporary standards, yes, it was. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, such attacks against civilian populations are absolutely prohibited, and are absolutely a war crime.

Of course, the Fourth Geneva Convention didn’t come about until after World War II.  But does it follow that the U.S. should therefore not apologize for actions, were they committed today, it would legally recognize as a war crime?

Moreover, international treaties relating to the laws of war and protection of civilians did not begin with the Geneva Conventions. The pre-WWII Hague Conventions prohibited the use of arms that cause “superfluous injury” and attacks against undefended cities. “Aerial bombardment for the purpose of terrorizing the civilian population, of destroying or damaging private property not of military character, or of injuring non-combatants is prohibited” and “is legitimate only when exclusively directed at” military targets. The “indiscriminate bombardment of the civilian population” is absolutely prohibited.

The U.S. government seeks to avoid a “debate” about the matter. But what is there to debate? There is nothing under international law, either now or then, that would allow for the justification of the killing of civilians in order to ostensibly prevent a hypothetical loss of lives in the future. The deliberate targeting of civilian populations is and was absolutely and unconditionally prohibited.

By the U.S.’s own standard, at the time, as a signatory of both the 1899 and 1907 Hague Conventions, it’s bombing of Hiroshima was a war crime. So, again, what is there to “debate”? And why should the U.S. not apologize for committing what was incontrovertibly, by the U.S.’s own standard, a heinous war crime?

The Times adds that “While some Japanese still consider the bombings a war crime, mainstream opinion appears to be more complex, largely out of recognition of Japan’s militaristic past.” So we are supposed to believe that most Japanese do not consider the bombing a crime, and those who do are a marginal group who possess simplistic views.

The Times also adds that “Historians … say the moral ambiguity is one reason for an almost total lack of hostility toward Americans in Hiroshima”. Moral “ambiguity”? In what way is the matter ambiguous? Again, international law, reflecting moral principles universally accepted in the day, is totally unambiguous about the matter.

Moreover, isn’t it more likely that Japanese are not hostile to Americans because not because they don’t regard the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians with nuclear weapons to be a crime, but rather because they’re willing, in all their gracious mercy, to forgive Americans for what their country did? Why is the explanation of “moral ambiguity” fit to print, but the reason of forgiveness  not worthy of a mention?

That the U.S. media, and U.S. officials, and many Americans in general, are willing to manufacture “moral ambiguity” where none exists, in order to attempt to justify the unjustifiable, even to this day, 65 years later, is a powerful statement about the moral degeneration of the U.S.

Why should the U.S. not apologize? This is a question for which there is only one answer, which is that the U.S., in all its hypocrisy, reserves for itself the “right” to commit war atrocities it would condemn if other nations were to do the same.

The time is long past due for Americans and their elected officials to reassess the U.S. relationship with Japan, to acknowledge the truth of the matter, to express regret and remorse for the unjustifiable massacre of civilians, and to move forward.

It’s not enough that U.S. officials merely attend the annual ceremony remembering the bombing of Hiroshima and the victims of that crime. As Kazumi Mizumoto, a professor at Hiroshima City University, told the Times, “Japan and the United States are not so far apart. Maybe they should offer a joint apology of all the terrible things that happened in that war.”

It’s been 65 years. An apology from the U.S., whether or not it is reciprocated by Japan, is long overdue.

Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst whose articles have been featured in numerous print and online publications around the world. He is the founder and executive editor of Foreign Policy Journal (www.foreignpolicyjournal.com), an online source for news, critical analysis, and opinion commentary on U.S. foreign policy. He was a recipient of the 2010 Project Censored Awards for Outstanding Investigative Journalism and can also be found on the web at www.jeremyrhammond.com.

8 thoughts on “On Refusing Apology for the Nuking of Civilians by Jeremy R. Hammond

  1. Pingback: The Lies Of Hiroshima Are The Lies Of Today by John Pilger « Dandelion Salad

  2. When is this war mongering nation going to join the rest of the civilized world? Not that there is much of it left.

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more about the need for an apology from the U.S. The first step in changing destructive behavior is admitting that we’ve got a problem and then making amends. This applies to countries as well as individuals.

    There is an atonement process that is largely missing in the conduct of nations which keeps perpetuating the pattern of wars. With atonement comes healing and the freedom to choose our actions. Without atonement, we really are doomed to repeat history and can never truly evolve or make any real progress which can be consolidated into our civilization… the destructive forces are too strong then and the systems too unbalanced and damaged.

    Inflicting death and destruction is ALWAYS a two-edged sword that does cut both ways. The people that have been killed by U.S. forces in an ever-growing number of countries have not happened in a vacuum, for every death, another cord of the social fabric in the U.S. has been severed.

    This process can be reversed. A sincere and heartfelt act of contrition offered in a public apology would be a good beginning… and not only to the people of Japan, but Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Korea and a long list of other countries as well. Yes, it opens a huge can of worms to begin this process, but if we don’t do it, the worms win.

    • the reason why that atonement is missing is the same reason that the peace movement in the 60’s turned in Chicago riots of 68 . no inner peace.

      inner peace must first come with divine –human reconcilation ( vertical ) , then human to human ( horizantal ) . without first accepting the karmic debt of the Christ and his atoning power , one ends up with a failed form of ”horizentilism ”.

      and the nations remain in enertia and in the end a washout of destruction .

      • This idea that christ was killed for our sins and that somehow belief that his death is some sort of reconciliation of our collective sins of brutality is a myth propagate purely by those who came after him, not a tenet of his teachings.

        The teachings of Jesus were perverted the moment his grief-stricken followers incorporated his murder into myth.

        This is exactly where Christianity went horribly wrong, but also exactly what made the subsequent scrambled story of Christianity into such a compelling concept that it ultimately became the most macabre force of death and destruction on earth.

        The idea that the killing of Jesus somehow embodies reconciliation of our injustice is absurd and is in no way born out in the subsequent behavior of humanity, least of all by Christians.

        Jesus would have been horrified to see how his death was distorted to become the most powerful part of his legacy.

        • Do you know and understand the word “Atonement”? Perhaps you should look it up and then come back and discuss it. It starts with the Jews. Remember Yom Kippur?

          Pointing out “bad” Christians doesn’t change Jesus’ message.

      • Honestly, Rocket, I don’t think you nor any Christian has ANY idea what Jesus actually SAID that made his death so important to Christians.

        The few repetitious, cryptic words ascribed to him as preserved in Mathew are so sketchy, general and vague that their validity as a historical document is questionable.

        And if that is all he actually said or even close, then he was not nearly such a great visionary prophet & leader as were some of his more modern adherents such as Dr. King.

        In light of the profound detail transcribed in far older oral traditions such as the work of Homer, the documentation available of such an influential figure as Jesus is at best irresponsible, and at worst purposefully deleted from text in order to open such vast variation in interpretation and abuse.

        If all you know about the real Jesus is Mathew in King James, then all you know is what others have said in the millennia since, who similarly know nothing of the real Jesus.

        Almost none of your scripture has anything to do with the real jesus, just a way to stuff a book with pages in order to addict & scare vast flocks of followers to keep them under control and fill sundays with something to say in sermons.

        • natureboy , just for clarification : they did not kill Jesus , he chose to lay his life down because he loved the whole human race.
          to state otherwise is to call him stupid . do you really think that a man of that wisdom would be dumb enough to go into the big town and say what he said knowing full well that they would take him out ?

          as long as he preached his message in the sticks he was left alone . he chose to go into the big town . he chose to speak . he chose to lay his life down . he was a messianic hellinized jew ! this was how he and many like him thought . this was how the Maccebean non violent martyrs thought in 165 B.c. WHEN THEY OFFERED THEMSELVES UP as a blood sacrifice to cleanse the temple from the Syrian takeover.

          read the 2nd and 4th book of Maccabees. the difference is is that they did it for Israel only , and Jesus wanted it to be for ALL . all inclusive . now , if you want o knock inclusion and peace for all . fine . i kinda like it , and i think that without it , we as a species are doomed.

          but let us look at this sacrificial death motif in judaism . Moses comes down from the mountain . he sees the golden calf . what does he say ? he says ”blot me out for their sake ”. BLOT ME OUT FOR THEIR SAKE ” .

          that is the mentality of true saviourhood . it runs from Isaac to Christ. another for it is –LOVE.

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