“If we are to avoid the drudgery of war, if we are to avoid being plunged across the abyss of atomic destruction, we must transcend the narrow confines of nationalism. Nationalism must give way to internationalism.” — Martin Luther King Jr., July 19, 1953
As of 2015, the United States and Russia have control of approximately 93 percent of all nuclear weapons. This staggering statistic is the legacy of the decades-long period of paranoia known as the Cold War.
In the United States, a country far more transparent about its stocks than Russia, nuclear weapons are divided into three categories: 2,080 deployed, 2,680 in storage and 2,340 that are “retired” — an odd way of saying they are simply in line to be dismantled. One missile blows up Manhattan, Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward or Higashiosaka, to put those numbers in perspective.
When Barack Obama visits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial during his fourth and final visit to Japan as president of the United States, simply saying “I’m sorry” would, in actuality, create more harm than good. The most likely Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, will seize on this “weakness of patriotism” and once again state to his supporters that America is a “loser” who travels the world apologizing for its past victories. And many Americans far less attuned to the frequency of the world will nod their head in agreement: “What good does apologizing do? Nothing.” (Note: The White House press secretary has already publicly stated that Obama would not be apologizing.)
Obama is, of course, entirely aware of the potential backlash. Election years have a way of turning America into a land of hysteria. Everything is amplified, and the country divides itself into red and blue states like sports teams in pursuit of a championship.
The truth is that, throughout his life, Obama has been more closely associated with Japanese culture than any other American president in history. In his first memoir, “Dreams from my Father,” written long before his presidency, Obama described a trip he took as a young boy: “On a three-day stopover in Japan, we walked through bone-chilling rains to see the great bronze Buddha at Kamakura and ate green tea ice cream on a ferry that passed through high mountain lakes.” Also frequently mentioned is his Asian upbringing: four years spent in Indonesia and the rest of his childhood in the predominantly Asian neighborhood of Makiki in Honolulu.
As the success of the organization Mayors for Peace has demonstrated, there is a global call to achieve a nuclear-free world by the year 2020. Since 1982, over 7,000 cities (including over 200 in the United States) have become members of the organization. For Obama, acknowledging this effort would have 10 times more effect than a 71-years-late apology. Obama could even guarantee a 50 percent reduction in nuclear weapons before the next president takes over.
When pressed about this issue of disarmament, Obama often delivers this line, paraphrased: “We are working on dismantling our nuclear weapons supply, in cooperation with Russia.” Those last four words are the most important, because Russia has hardly ever been cooperative on this matter. If they refuse to even provide a sharp estimate of how many nuclear weapons they possess, how will they ever cooperate on such a complex process as disarmament?
A promised act by Obama, at this late stage, would be far more valuable than a simple apology. However, there should never be the expectation of Obama publicly demanding a nuclear-free world. As an American, Obama believes in the current power structure: “The integration of Germany and Japan into a world system of liberal democracies and free-market economies effectively eliminated the threat of great-power conflicts inside the free world,” Obama wrote in his second memoir, “The Audacity of Hope” (written far more with the presidency in mind). “It is our nuclear umbrella that prevented Europe and Japan from entering the arms race during the Cold War, and that — until recently, at least — has led most countries to conclude that nukes aren’t worth the trouble.”
Still, what remains is that egregious, gaudy number: 7,000, a number that other unarmed countries see as a slap in the face. “There they are, with seven thousand, and we haven’t but one!”
Cutting that number in half within the year would be a strong way of displaying a level of cooperation and respect toward other countries not in such a favorable position of authority. It would be better than an apology. It would be action. Or, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., one of Obama’s heroes, put it: “When will a stupid world rise up to see that a ‘get tough’ policy cannot bring peace; universal military training cannot bring peace; the threat of the atomic bomb cannot bring peace; but only through placing love, mercy and justice first can we have peace.”
Patrick Parr (www.patrickparr.com) is a lecturer for the University of Southern California’s International Academy in Los Angeles. His work has previously appeared in The Humanist, USA Today and The Writer, among others. You can contact Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Foreign Agenda is a forum for opinion on issues related to life in Japan. Your comments and ideas: email@example.com