The transcript shows Obama’s speech at Hiroshima to be surprisingly eloquent and equally uncharacteristic. Yet it is tragically flawed. Much of the speech dealt with the tragic realities of war; referring to World War II, Obama stated, “In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us. Shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death. There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war, memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism, graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity.”
Being the ultimate manifestation of violent conflict, war extracts a mind-numbing toll, counted in lives lost, and property, history and culture destroyed. All salient points, yet Obama demonstrated once again, a disturbing naivete; he still believes the world can be transformed into a real life Fantasyland. That belief fails to acknowledge that nations are comprised of people, both good and evil; the acts nations commit will therefore be both good and evil. Neither a nation nor a union of nations can simply will away the threat , let alone the commission of evil.
While the atomic bomb may be viewed as the ultimate incarnation of evil, simply because of its unparalleled capacity to kill, it can also be viewed as the ultimate deterrent of evil- simply because of its unparalleled capacity to kill. A nuclear attack, and the counter-attack that is sure to follow, could potentially kill a majority of the world’s population. And many of the souls who survived would ultimately succumb to the effects of radiation.
Given that scenario, the costs of a nuclear war are simply too great for rational nations to risk. Yet, that won’t dissuade nations with irrational leaders from attempting to develop nuclear capability and issuing very realistic threats to use it. Witness Iran and North Korea.
Those threats can only be neutralized by the very real possibility of devastating pre-emptive strikes and ultimate annihilation. Lost in the focus on nuclear constraint and disarmament is the technology that has brought us other means of raining down a storm of devastation without the nuclear hangover that accompanies “the bomb”. There now exists the non-nuclear capability to destroy with near-surgical precision.
But even the most terrifying of deterrents is only useful in curbing irrational threats of nuclear strikes if those who would perpetrate such attacks believe that they will pay the ultimate price for their actions. That belief is not instilled by drawing imaginary lines in the sand, or by making conciliatory speeches.
In 1945, the leaders of Japan became believers, not after the first message was delivered at Hiroshima, but after the second one was delivered at Nagasaki. The bomb that fell on Hiroshima should have been evidence enough that surrender was the only available option. Yet even after the death and destruction wrought by the Hiroshima bomb, and President Harry Truman’s warning to, “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”, Japan refused to surrender. It would take a second atomic bomb to convince Japanese leaders that the United States had in fact ended the conflict they initiated with their unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor.
War teaches many lessons, both on and off the battlefield. One of those is that the only way for good to prevail over evil is through the creation of superior strength and resolve to use it. Judging by his Hiroshima speech, Obama is no closer to understanding that today than he was 8 years ago.