UPDATE, 10/13 Readers: This post has been proven wrong, based on a misinterpretation of a diplomatic cable that has been clarified to Ethics Alarms by a reliable and objective source. You can read the explanation, and my apology, here.
I will try.
A secret cable dated Sept. 3, 2009 was recently released by WikiLeaks. Sent to Secretary of State Clinton, it reported that Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka told U.S. Ambassador John Roos that “the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘nonstarter.'”*
The Japanese did President Obama and the United States an enormous favor, but the utter foolishness and lack of comprehension of national principles, American history and the duties of presidential leadership shown by the fact that the idea of such an apology could get to the point where the Japanese had to reject it goes beyond mind-boggling and shocking to frightening, infuriating and offensive.
I cannot begin listing all that is wrong with the President of the United States seeking to apologize for the nation winning a war against a cruel, vicious and determined adversary (See: Bataan Death March; Rape of Nanking, etc., etc., etc.) and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers—including my father—who were being readied for a bloody invasion, because my sanity might leave me in the process.
Let me merely summarize by saying that this shows a stunning, previously unsuspected (at least by me) degree of confusion by the President and his advisors about his loyalties to the nation and the men who previously held his job. How dare President Obama presume to apologize for the decisions taken by past leaders to preserve and protect the United States and its people? How dare a tyro leader with neither military not executive experience declare, from the comfort of hindsight and without the burden of accountability, that Harry Truman, or, for that matter, James Madison, James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, or George Bush were wrong and require apologies for their good faith actions in fulfillment of their Oath of Office and as Commanders in Chief?
The impulse is disrespectful, irresponsible, unfair, incompetent and arrogant beyond belief. It is also the smoking gun proof of a leader who neither respects nor understands leadership, or, I fear, the country he leads.
I hope and trust, assuming that American voters are luckier in their choices in the future, that no future President apologizes to Pakistan or Al Qaeda for the killing of Osama bin Laden, or to Yemen for the drone targeting of Anwar al-Awlaki. President Obama deserves at least that measure of deference and respect, even though he has been unwilling to extend it to his own predecessors.
The only President that Barack Obama should apologize for is himself, and he can begin at the World War Two Memorial, in Washington D.C.
* The full text of the relevant part of the leaked cable:
POTUS VISIT TO JAPAN: TOO EARLY FOR HIROSHIMA VISIT
¶5. (C) VFM Yabunaka pointed out that the Japanese public will have high expectations toward President Obama’s visit to Japan in November, as the President enjoys an historic level of popularity among the Japanese people. Anti-nuclear groups, in particular, will speculate whether the President
would visit Hiroshima in light of his April 5 Prague speech on non-proliferation. He underscored, however, that both governments must temper the public’s expectations on such issues, as the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a
“non-starter.” While a simple visit to Hiroshima without fanfare is sufficiently symbolic to convey the right message, it is premature to include such program in the November visit. Yabunaka recommended that the visit in November center mostly in Tokyo, with calls on the Emperor and Prime
Minister, as well as some form of public program, such as speeches, an engagement at a university, or a town hall-like meeting with local residents. Highlighting the busy political calendar in the coming weeks, including the election of the new Prime Minister, launching of the new Cabinet, and the Prime Minister’s participation in the UN General Assembly and the Pittsburgh G-20 Summit, Yabunaka
noted that both sides should begin working quickly on the President’s November visit….”
[Thanks to Rick Jones, who provides a link to Wikileaks, which I will not link to as a matter of principle, below.]
38 thoughts on “How Do I Write A Measured Ethical Analysis When I Am Shaking With Indignation and Rage?”
Leaving aside the merits of the atomic bombings, several presidents have apologized for the “difficult choices made by their predecessors”. Both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush apologized to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II, a decision made by Franklin Roosevelt. Bill Clinton apologized for the Tuskegee experiments (although this was not really the direct result of a difficult choice made by a predecessor). You could even say that Thomas Jefferson apologized to those convicted under the Alien and Sedition Acts (which had been signed into law by John Adams) when he pardoned them all and paid back their fines.
I’ll give you the Japanese internments. The others are stretches. I can see the justification for the former, although it is still wrong…again, easy to do in retrospect. If a Japanese-American citizen had attempted an act of war against the US, would they have made the same apology?
Anyway, you are quibbling. It’s nowhere in the vicinity of apologizing for Hiroshima. By the time of Reagan’s apology, literally no one was in disagreement that the internment was a constitutional abomination against US citizens…it put into words what was already accepted.
None of which makes Obama’s intentions less unforgivable or damning.
I don’t disagree that apologizing for the internment of Japanese-Americans is not in the vicinity of apologizing for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. I just wanted to point out that your statement that no other president has apologized for the actions of his predecessor is false. I wanted to know if your problem was with presidential apologies per se or just a presidential apology for Hiroshima. If it was just for Hiroshima, then we are probably in agreement. If it is for presidential apologies per se, then I don’t see your point. Countries screw up, sometimes even because of good faith decisions of their leader. Is there something wrong with the leader of a country apologizing for a mistake made by his or her country in the past? We probably agree that Japan did some bad things during World War II. Would it be wrong for a Japanese Emperor or Prime Minister to apologize to the people affected, even if he was not the Emperor or Prime Minister in power during the war? If it would not be wrong, what makes the United States different? You could say that the United States did not commit anything close to the atrocities committed by Japan and you would probably be right, but then you are looking at whether an apology is justified in a certain situation, not whether any apology is ever justified.
Duly noted. Apparently, Obama saying that waterboarding was wrong would be “disrespectful, irresponsible, unfair, incompetent and arrogant beyond belief.”
Other things that qualify, saying that slavery is wrong, arguing in favor of the 2 term limit for the presidency, noting that the U.S. Government lied to the indigenous people, saying social security was a bad idea, and saying social security was a good idea.
Yes. Presidents should not apologize fordecisions made by other presidents when they were not in office. Water-boarding was wrong, but it was a good faith policy decision—end it, say we aren’t doing it again, and move on.
The proof that Obama’s apology was wrong is that it led to the idiocy of offering to apologize to Japan for what was done to defeat them in the war. (Japan, by the way, has never apologized for any of its atrocities, to any of its Asian neighbors that it murdered and enslaved.) What could he have been thinking? At this point, I’m not sure I care. Right now, the most interesting question is whether Obama was the least qualified and prepared U.S. President ever, by experience, and temperment. I’m inclined to say no, but only because of Andrew Johnson. Truman would have been my alternative choice for second, but he, by sheer luck, had a knack for leadership.
You’re in Cloud Cuckoo Land, now, tgt. Slavery was not a presidential decision, and not during wartime. What’s your point? You really want to defend Obama for an outrageous proposition that was an insult to the armed forces, veterans, a former president, and was even recognized as certifiable by the object of the apology? The fact that such a crack-brained thought would enter his mind shows that his judgement is pathologically flawed. Are liberals really going to defend this conduct, or attempted conduct? Isn’t that the height of enabling behavior?
Yes. Presidents should not apologize fordecisions made by other presidents when they were not in office. Water-boarding was wrong, but it was a good faith policy decision—end it, say we aren’t doing it again, and move on.
I cannot support this position. A good faith war crime can not be called a mistake? Are we an authoritarian society now?
The proof that Obama’s apology was wrong is that it led to the idiocy of offering to apologize to Japan for what was done to defeat them in the war.
The apology didn’t lead to offering to make the apology. You’ve managed to make the most ridiculous circular argument I can think of.
You’re in Cloud Cuckoo Land, now, tgt. Slavery was not a presidential decision, and not during wartime. What’s your point?
Slavery was defended by early presidents. The first 15 presidents made the decision to continue the policy. You also left out the other examples of presidential decisions.
More importantly, I now realize that you believe Presidents are beyond criticism only for wartime decisions. So, British Prime Ministers should not apologize for Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, or does this only apply to U.S. Presidents?
? You really want to defend Obama for an outrageous proposition that was an insult to the armed forces, veterans, a former president, and was even recognized as certifiable by the object of the apology?
Apparently, recognizing that the atomic bombs (that are now illegal) caused massive suffering is an insult to the person who decided to use them, and to people who have just enlisted in the army. I don’t get it.
Presidents don’t determine what are “war crimes,” which itself is an oxymoron. When a tribunal finds a US President guilty of war crime in a situation where the US properly accedes to such a verdict, then I agree: an apology is justified.
This has never happened, and I doubt that it ever will.
Forget labels. If the United States wronged someone, even if that wrong was perfectly legal, would it be wrong for the President to apologize to that person on behalf of the United States? To give a concrete example, would it have been wrong for Thomas Jefferson to apologize to the people imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts?
Are you really making the argument that a tactic (when used by others) that the US has treated as a war crime should not be treated by the current president as a war crime?
Are you really saying that one should ONLY apologize for unethical behavior if one is convicted in a proper court of law AND one properly agrees with that conviction? You’ve left ethics completely at this point.
—Atomic bombs are NOT “illegal.” Where did you ever get that idea? The US still can and will use atomic bombs if the situation calls for it. Even if you were right, the “law” was not retroactive. Conduct can be made illegal under current conditions that were justifiable under past conditions, and vice versa.
—-Recognizing that a wartime action caused “suffering” is very different from apologizing for it.
—-Apologizing, Obama-style, is a way to reject responsibility and accountability for the actions of predecessors. It goes without saying that a nation is accountable for what its leaders do. Chamberlain messed up; I don’t think Britain should apologize. I don’t think the US should apologize for turning Eastern Europe over to the Soviets, either, although it was an awful decision.
—My point, not exactly well-stated, is that Obama is an apology addict, and his initial apologies created a slippery slope.
—Clearly you don’t get it….anyone who thinks the US should consider apologizing for doing what it had to do to win WWII–or what it THOUGHT it had to do— doesn’t get it. I don’t understand how the neurons are getting lost, but they certainly are.
Atomic bombs are NOT “illegal.” Where did you ever get that idea? The US still can and will use atomic bombs if the situation calls for it.
My bad. That’s a misreading from secondary sources. It’s simply illegal for use nuclear weapons if their is an alternative.
Even if you were right, the “law” was not retroactive. Conduct can be made illegal under current conditions that were justifiable under past conditions, and vice versa.
I was not saying that their illegality now would make them illegal previously. I was saying that the recognition of their damage has made them illegal. We know more now than we knew then. (I agree that I mispoke about their strict illegality, but the same general point holds.)
Recognizing that a wartime action caused “suffering” is very different from apologizing for it.
Touche. Though I still don’t see how apologizing for use of a specific tactic 60 years ago is an insult to the newly enlisted.
Apologizing, Obama-style, is a way to reject responsibility and accountability for the actions of predecessors.
What? Isn’t the apology a recognition of the responsibility and accountability of the past actions. Ignoring it would be a rejection of responsibility for actions of predecessors.
It goes without saying that a nation is accountable for what its leaders do. Chamberlain messed up; I don’t think Britain should apologize. I don’t think the US should apologize for turning Eastern Europe over to the Soviets, either, although it was an awful decision.
So, be accountable and responsible, but don’t actually do anything that shows accountability and responsibility. Your position is weird.
My point, not exactly well-stated, is that Obama is an apology addict, and his initial apologies created a slippery slope.
Uh huh. Which apologies were those?
Clearly you don’t get it….anyone who thinks the US should consider apologizing for doing what it had to do to win WWII–or what it THOUGHT it had to do— doesn’t get it. I don’t understand how the neurons are getting lost, but they certainly are.
That blanket statement is indefensible. If the U.S. had thought that it needed to go door to door and rape every man, woman, child, and pet to win WWII (and then done so), it damn well needs to apologize for that. The other position is untenable. The US should not be above ethics.
If you read the actual cable instead of an editorial in Investors Business Daily, a publication so little concerned with actual facts that it repeats the demonstrably false claim that Obama was the first US President to bow to a Japanese emperor (both Nixon and the elder Bush did so), you’ll find that the context doesn’t necessarily mean what some folks say it means.
Here’s the section in question:
“Anti-nuclear groups, in particular, will speculate whether the President would visit Hiroshima in light of his April 5 Prague speech on non-proliferation. He [Tabunaka] underscored, however, that both governments must temper the public’s expectations on such issues, as the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘non-starter.’”
I’m not sure what that means. It could mean precisely what the press is trying to spin it into meaning. But if I had to pick a reading, it would be this: “If the President visits Hiroshima, anti-nuclear groups will accept nothing less than an apology for the atomic bombing, and we know that isn’t going to happen.” It would account for the Japanese government’s desire not to have President Obama visit Hiroshima at all: “While a simple visit to Hiroshima without fanfare is sufficiently symbolic to convey the right message, it is premature to include such program [sic.] in the November visit.”
There is no clear indication who suggested the “apology,” or who rejected it. This incident, based on the evidence so far in front of us, is worthy of skepticism but not—yet, at least—condemnation.
Thank you, Rick, for bothering to dig a little deeper.
I just read the same from the original wikileaks cable. No direct quote. I couldn’t come up with any solid conclusion from what was written. Sounds like wishful thinking for Japan..
Thanks, Rick…especially because I refuse to visit Wikileaks on principle.
I agree that the cable is not conclusive; I disagree that the interpretation of it, based on what we have, is “spin.” The media has made similar extrapolations from Wikileaks cables and communications without any objections. or questions, when it involved other questionable plans. I have a hard time seeing how this could make its way into a cable if the Obama Administration didn’t signal a willingness to consider such an apology, whether it was proposed in the White House, by Obama, by an idiot top aide, or by some Japanese crazy person. If the idea came from elsewhere, I am disgusted that the Obama White House didn’t answer, “Are you kidding? Never! That’s outrageous!”
What’s the alternative theory? That the cable was just floating random ideas, as in: “Having the Prime Minister dress up as the Easter Bunny, the President serenading the crowd with his rendition of “Ghostbusters”, having him enter Tokyo pulled in a golden chariot by a team of 100 pugs, and the President addressing Kyoto from a massive Cheese sculpture of Barney are all “non-starters”…? The idea came from somewhere, and if it could settle in any part of the Obama brain for more than a nanosecond without causing him to scream “NOOOOOO!”, then my horror stands.
I linked to that particular publication because that was the one that I saw first…I’m not endorsing the editorial. Obama DID bow to the PM, however. There is no way to view that photo otherwise, and it was wrong, and diplomatically incorrect, and offensive. My sources in the diplomatic corps blame Obama’s staff. Of course, I could name (and so could you) about six recent presidents who would tell any staff member suggesting a bow, “I don’t care—the President of the US isn’t bowing down to any foreign potentates, and by the way—you’re fired.”
Bowing, to the Japanese, is like a handshake in Western countries – would you be offended if Obama shook hands with a foreign leader?
Irrelevant. What matters is what bowing signifies in THIS country, and that’s why Presidents, before Obama, didn’t do it.
Echoing Rick: “both Nixon and the elder Bush did so”
Don’t let facts get in the way of your opinion of Obama.
1. The post isn’t about bowing.
2. If Nixon and Bush did it, they were wrong too.
3. Their doing it doesn’t make Obama any less wrong.
4. Nixon is the most unethical President of my lifetime; Bush Sr perhaps the worst (it’s close).
1. No, but you’re using it to back up your point.
2. Funny, it wasn’t a big deal at the time. You don’t even remember Bush’s bow. (I’ll assume that Nixon’s box predates your paying attention to politics.)
3. Nope, but it does make your insinuations about Obama compared to previous presidents wrong
4. Just because Nixon was unethical in some (okay, okay, most) behaviors, doesn’t mean that a specific behavior was necessarily unethical. Are you putting Bush Sr below Carter or Bush Jr?
In the 70s, Nixon was considered shrewd for bowing. Now he’d be considered a traitor to America, because of FUCK YEAH!
Just saw the photo of Nixon’s supposed “bow.” It wasn’t one. He nodded. Even Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t call THAT a bow if Obama did it to Satan. Nixon was also on record as a Commie hater–at worst, it was like Patton’s toast with the Soviet official after telling him he was a son of a bitch. I can’t find Bush Sr.’s bow. Bush the Younger bowed to the Saudi king, and caught hell for it, properly so.
I also think that a bow is considered in context. If John Wayne decided to bow—so what? Obama has been projecting obsequiousness, guilt, and rejection of American power and exceptionalism from the start. It’s not unfair to take that into consideration. That said, the bow is irrelevant to the apology. We’re not at war with Japan. The bow is merely annoying.
It’s my understanding that Nixon’s action was considered a bow at the time, but it could be considered differently in light of it’s depth.
Bush Sr’s was at a funeral for the emperor. It may not be recorded, but he was on record defending his action as showing earned respect for the man.
I don’t remember Obama projecting obsequiousness or guilt or rejecting American power. I’ll agree to dampening of American Exceptionalism, but considering that American Exceptionalism is stupid, I’m fine with that.
I meant wishful thinking on Japan’s part.
Ronald Reagan also made a controversial visit to a cemetary near Bitburg, Germany in 1985. The cemetary only contained German soldiers during WWII. A few Waffen-SS were also buried there. President Reagan laid a wreath on a wall of rememberance. The episode created a stir among Europeans and the Jewish people.
While I’m willing to suspend judgement over the interpretation of the cable (it is a masterpiece of ambiguity), pending further clarification; I did want to add a small addendum, Jack, to your comments concerning why the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima was a correct decision. It is sometimes overlooked that using the bomb contributed to saving Japanese lives as well as American lives. That’s right, Japanese lives. Most of the military leadership in Japan were grimly determined to fight to the bitter end and if that meant making ordinary civilians with no military training into cannon fodder, so be it. Fanatics were seriously planning to equip children with backpacks filled with explosives: they would hide, waiting for a tank or other vehicle to come by, then dive under it and blow it, and themselves, up. The slaughter that would have ensued would have been…I get chills up my spine just thinking about it. For every Japanese life ended at Hiroshima, at least two would have been ended if the US had been forced to invade Japan. The nuclear weapons provided the Emperor of Japan and his more rational advisers with a face-saving way to justify surrender. That’s the devil’s arithmetic, for sure, but it’s also fact.
I agree Karl. That is what I was taught in history class.
I wasn’t taught that in history class—my history professor was a libertarian, and believed that FDR tricked us into a war we shouldn’t have fought (my teacher was also an anti-Semite). But Karl has this right.
I don’t want to get into the justification for the Hiroshima decision (or the Nagasaki bomb, which I have grave doubts about myself). I don’t think that’s the issue. The point is the President’s duty to stand with his predecessors’ decisions during wartime, unless there is an extraordinary reason not to do so.
The justification for dropping both bombs was that we were at war with a country who was not going to surrender any time soon and the war was going to drag out for years. We would have been fighting until 1950 maybe.
Also, not just Japanese lives, but probably Russian, Chinese, British, Indian, and Southeast Asia lives as well. People often forget that there was still fighting going on in mainland Asia when the atomic bombs were dropped.
Having been staioned in Japan on and off for three years I will tell you that you never apologize for ANYTHING. They see it as a sign of weekness. As to bowing , let them bow , i shake hands and most Japanese I knew shook hands also. But then the ones I was hanging out with liked to drink Jack Daniels, smoke Marlboros, ride Harley Davidsons and were missing parts of their fingers.
So, you’re saying that macho men see apologies as a sign of weakness. I’m not sure what that has to do with Japan in general.
The Japanese see it as a sign of weakness. If you apologize you lose a great deal of face.
Which, in your case, would be a great improvement….
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Jack, I understand your outrage and indignation, but not your surprise. Apologist sentiment, for the arrogant, imperialistic U.S., is nothing new from the Left…..and I have no doubt that many liberals would defend Obama if it were shown that such an apology was his idea, so perhaps you should brace yourself.
(p.s. I didn’t realize your dad had passed away, and am sad to learn that.)
Thanks…there’s a post about it you might like…search for Jack A Marshall, Sr. The old soldier died in his sleep, on my birthday…just the way he wanted it.
Yes, I searched for, and found, the obit after I noticed your use of the past tense in the recent “birthday” post reference to him. It was my only clue, and I wanted to make sure before I commented on it. (…just in case it was a typo. 🙂
Missing parts of their fingers? Don’t judge all Japanese by those dudes…..
Did Obama bow, or is he just so much taller than the Emporer that he stooped? I’ve only seen still shots and it’s hard to tell. The Emporer is about 5’2″….
He bowed. The height argument has been the standing excuse; the photo is unequivocal, if you’re objective. You wouldn’t have to bow like that if you were meeting the Mayor of Munchkin Land.