Taking a perspective different from that of CNN news coverage, the Cuban daily Granma, the newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, described the President’s visit as polemical. The article noted that, on the one hand, the US government has persistently justified the detonating of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, and a subsequent nuclear attack three days later against the city of Nagasaki, as necessary in order to accelerate the end of World War II; but on the other hand, many have denounced the dropping of the atomic bombs as war crimes. The article summarizes well the reasoning of those who take the latter position: “Many specialists agree that it was a disproportionate use of force when the country [Japan] already was on the verge of surrender, and that the nuclear attack opened the doors to the use of a kind of weaponry that could destroy humanity.”
The Granma article notes that some had hoped that President Obama would apologize for the attack, which he did not do. The article speculated, however, that rather than an apology, perhaps some have been hoping, in Japan and the rest of the world, that the United States would take concrete steps to ensure that such attacks never happen again, such as reducing the enormous military expenditures of the United States. Reflecting on the Granma article, I ask, Could Obama’s moving gesture be considered hypocrisy?
I am of the generation that was born immediately after World War II. We grew up hearing, and to a large extent accepting, the official claim that the dropping of the bomb was necessary to force Japanese surrender. As we entered colleges and universities, we had the possibility to reflect collectively on this and other issues, a situation established by the civil rights movement, the resistance of the people of Vietnam, and the emergence of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements in the Third World. Our generation was progressing, albeit with confusion, toward consciousness that the United States was claiming to be something that it was not: a beacon of democracy in the world. Our anger was fueled not only by the crimes, but also by the hypocrisy.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as movements of blacks, students, women, Chicanos, Native Americans and ecologists were acquiring force, I believed that a more progressive nation was emerging, and that the conservative discourse would soon wither away. But it did not come to pass. Rather, a conservative mood has prevailed since 1980. A nation that claims to defend democracy in the world, but in fact does not, persists. Hypocrisy is alive and well, even celebrated.
Now in the twilight of my life, I think about how we went so wrong, how we as a nation managed to bury progressive tendencies that had been gradually emerging throughout the history of the Republic. I think about the structures and the assumptions that have constrained and channeled the energies of those of us who believed that humanity stood at the dawn of a more just and democratic era. In the academic world, we have confronted bureaucracy, fragmentation into disciplines, and false assumptions concerning scientific objectivity. In the world of activism, we have been burdened by the imposition of accepted patterns of protest and by an incapacity to approach issues comprehensively and with profundity. As a result, we have not been able to provide our people with an historical interpretation that is an alternative to the dominant World War II narrative, an interpretation that recognizes, for example, US interest in 1945 in provoking a quick Japanese surrender to the United States, as against a Japanese surrender to the Soviet Union, which had started its march against Japan just as the United States was unleashing its atomic bombs. And we have not been able to formulate a coherent and viable alternative to the various post-World War II ideological constructs of the Cold War, the War on Drugs, and the War on Terrorism; even though the colonized peoples of the earth have been formulating in theory and in practice an alternative global project. In general, we have failed to lead our people to an alternative theory and practice, an alternative national project rooted in honest formulation and an openness to listening to the alternative voices that emerge from below, and rooted as well in the democratic values that the nation has proclaimed since its birth.
Key words: Obama, Hiroshima, World War II, hypocrisy