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White House Says Hiroshima Visit Should Not Be Viewed As An Apology


Dartmouth professor Jennifer Lind recently wrote that a presidential visit to Hiroshima would be a complex and controversial journey. She's author of the book "Sorry States: Apologies In International Politics." I asked Lind about how the White House is describing President Obama's upcoming visit as a chance to look forward rather than apologize for the past.

JENNIFER LIND: It's a very important distinction. If the president were to go to Hiroshima and offer an apology for the use of atomic weapons there, this would go against prevailing American opinion about the use of the atomic bombs in World War II.

The majority of Americans do not believe an apology is necessary. They believe that the bombs basically spared the need for a very bloody invasion of the Japanese main islands and therefore ended a really terrible war, which, in their view, the Japanese had started. So Americans do not support an apology to Japan. So the president issuing one would be a deeply controversial move.

SHAPIRO: Do Americans support an expression of contrition?

LIND: Well, I guess we shall see.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) More broadly, what does it say about the relationship between the U.S. and Japan right now that President Obama is making this move?

LIND: I think that the U.S. and Japan have an extremely strong, very warm friendship. And I think what's the most interesting thing that we can tell from this event is if we look at the Japanese handling of this event, the Japanese have been extremely obliging, extremely mature in their acceptance of the way that the White House is trying to frame this. So in other words, the White House is saying this is not an apology to Japan. This is an expression of shared respect and shared commitment to peace.

And the Japanese say, yes, absolutely, this is the case. And just think about what they might have said. They might have said, no, you should be apologizing to us. You dropped atomic weapons on us. So the fact that they are as obliging and cooperative in this as they have been really suggests this is a very committed, very strong partnership that we have.

SHAPIRO: There are strategic implications for this, right? I mean, in the context of the U.S. pivot to Asia, trying to counterbalance China, what impact might this have?

LIND: Anything that strengthens the U.S.-Japan alliance is something that is going to be really useful at this time. The rise of China and China's activity in East Asia is something that's worrying a lot of folks in both the U.S. and Japan. And so many people would see that these sorts of gestures are a good thing. These sorts of commemorative gestures are something that are being paired with the more substantive material gestures, such as the passage of the security legislation in Japan.

SHAPIRO: This is not President Obama's first visit to Japan during his presidency. And in the past, he's always decided not to visit Hiroshima. What do you think changed?

LIND: Well, my understanding is that he was thinking about a big gesture in terms of the ending of his presidency, making a big gesture that he could really believe in and provide a lot of leadership in. And we do know that the president has been very committed, at least in his own thinking, to the agenda of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and that this is something that perhaps he could do in his mind that would further that goal.

SHAPIRO: Are you surprised that the White House made this move?

LIND: I am and I am not. I'm a bit surprised because it is a risky move in the middle of a presidential campaign when the risk of losing has such consequences (laughter). And at the same time, I'm not surprised given what we know of President Obama. We know from these speeches, such as Strausberg and Cairo and elsewhere, that he ruminates about America's past behavior. And so in that respect it does seem like a natural thing for him to do.

SHAPIRO: That's Dartmouth professor Jennifer Lind. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

LIND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.