“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.”
These were the words of President Barack Obama as he addressed an audience at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, making him the first president to visit the site of the first atomic bomb attack.
Obama’s visit received mixed reviews. Many of those sympathetic to the administration saw this as an act of reconciliation for a tragedy so devastating that it hasn’t been repeated since World War II. Meanwhile, critics were quick to label this visit as just another stop on Obama’s international “apology tour” for many questionable American foreign actions.
Not discussed though was the irony of Obama’s opening line. “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.”
The irony lies in Obama’s depiction of the sky, both its color and its deadliness. In 2013, a young Pakistani boy named Zubair testified in front of Congress about surviving an American drone strike, one that killed his grandmother. The attack, by his account, took place during a cloudless day, when the sky was a vibrant color of blue — “the color of sky most beloved” by his grandmother.
After providing excruciating details about the event, he stated, “Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly. When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear.”
Discussion of President Obama’s use of drone warfare is not dissimilar to your uncle’s bad toupee that he wears to Christmas dinner: Everybody seems to know about it, but nobody likes to talk about it. Only your uncle — or his toupee — are not complicit in military interventions that are ethically dubious at best.
Leaked documents obtained by The Intercept detailed a troubling ratio. For every individual assassination target “neutralized” by a drone strike, nine unintended targets were also killed. That means American drones kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and several other countries in nearly every strike.
Comparisons between the atomic bombs dropped on Japan and the current missiles raining down upon the Middle East deservedly inspire immediate skepticism. For starters, the scale of death is not entirely comparable. Over 100,000 died as the result of the Enola Gay’s flight over Japan. American drone strikes are difficult to quantify because of their covert nature, but estimates don’t come anywhere close to the sheer magnitude of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
However, Obama’s use of drones is but yet one more example of his questionable commitment to evading global conflict. Running originally on a campaign that boldly criticizes the destruction brought upon by the hawkish policies of George W. Bush, Obama almost literally doubled down with his own brand of hawkishness: Bush bombed four countries during his presidency; Obama bombed seven.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Obama ordered tenfold more drone strikes than his predecessor.
He even bragged about “ending two wars” during his presidency, while neglecting to mention that we were still actively bombing the two countries where these wars supposedly ended.
All of this coming from a man who earned a Nobel Peace Prize nonetheless.
Obama knows that peace sells. “Ordinary people… do not want more war,” he continues during his Hiroshima address. “When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this wisdom, the lesson of Hiroshima is done.”
Obviously, the lesson of Hiroshima is far from done. And what’s even more obvious is that this piece of wisdom continues to escape our very own leaders (especially our current one). Perhaps we can find solace in the fact that another thermonuclear explosion hasn’t cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people again. But militarism and war-making certainly hasn’t witnessed a steady decline since VJ Day; it has only exponentially increased and multiplied since then. Modern history reads like an obituary of our collective humanity slowly dying one bomb at a time.
Obama closed with some contrived platitudes intended to offer a sense of hope. “But today the children of [Hiroshima] will go through their day in peace,” he gloats. “What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child.”
I patiently await for the day when President Obama extends that same protection to Zubair, his sister Nabila, and every other child in the Middle East.
Photo Source: Reuters