President Obama's Apology to Hiroshima

The Memorial Cenotaph at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The Memorial Cenotaph at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

MEMO

From: Tyler Wigg-Stevenson
To: President Barack Obama
Cc: Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications
Re: that draft of Hiroshima remarks you were looking for

[To be delivered as written]

I’ve come to Hiroshima to say that I’m sorry.

Oh, wait. Hold the phone. I can totally see where you thought I was going. Haha, no. No, I’m definitely not apologizing for America dropping the A-bomb.

Come on, folks. We told you in advance that you wouldn’t be getting that apology. Anyway, you don’t really want me to do it. You think you do, but you’re wrong.

As you may have heard, we’ve got an election coming up back home. My apologizing for the A-bomb would be like tossing a kitten to a pack of hyenas. Plus Hillary would have to outflank me to the right.

So an apology from me might be emotionally satisfying for some of you. But it’d be the worst thing I could do for nuclear disarmament in general.

And, let me tell you: “the worst thing I could do for disarmament”? As in, I, Barack Obama? Well, that’s really saying something. Because — I have to be honest with you here — I’ve been pretty bad.

That’s why I’m here to say sorry.

(Again: not saying sorry for dropping the bomb. Or the second bomb. Just so we’re clear.)

I’m sorry for bookending my presidency with visits to historically significant cities — that’s Prague and Hiroshima, if you haven’t been paying attention — to exploit them as backdrops for lofty but ultimately inconsequential noises about the elimination of nuclear weapons.

I’m also sorry that you’re all such bad listeners. When I went to Prague and said that America was seeking the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons ,” though perhaps “not in my lifetime,” you all thought that my emphasis was the goal, rather than the timeline. Read to the end of the paragraph, people! “Not in my lifetime.”

I’m sorry that I’ve virtually guaranteed that promise by laying out a 30-year, $1 trillion budget for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. By the time we’re through, I’ll be in my 80s. But if whichever millennial who’s president then acts quickly, I suppose you could get there in time for me to see it. Stranger things, folks. Stranger things.

I’m sorry that I brewed such weak tea when I had the chance to re-write America’s nuclear doctrine back in 2010. That Nuclear Posture Review really could’ve been something, huh? And, coming out of Prague, you might have thought I’d shoot the moon. Moral authority meets bully pulpit meets the commander-in-chief! The president of the United States of America gives a stemwinder of a speech like that, you think he really means it.

Live and learn, I guess.

I’m sorry that I sacked Chuck Hagel, the highest-ranking supporter of nuclear weapons elimination, to serve in my administration.

I’m sorry that I made my staff look like fools or liars or both when they had to say with a straight face that we still intended to get the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty ratified in the Senate.

You know, all this apologizing feels pretty good. What else ...?

Oh, right! How could I have forgotten? I’m sorry that my administration has done everything it can to maintain the nuclear status quo. I’m sorry that we’ve taken every opportunity to undermine the “Humanitarian Pledge” and the efforts of the 120+ nations rallying for a negotiated ban on nuclear weapons. Yes, I know it’s the most dynamic movement for nuclear weapons elimination in a generation. Yes, I know it’s exactly the sort of game-changer that you’d have thought I’d support, given my Prague speech.

Yes, I know. I wouldn’t be saying “sorry” if I didn’t, now would I?

Ahem.

I’m sorry Russia is so terrible right now.

On a related note, I’m sorry that U.S. nuclear weapons are still on a Cold War, hair-trigger-alert posture.

But, hey, you know what I’m not sorry for? I’m not sorry for the Iran Deal, and I’m not sorry for the Nuclear Security Summits. Those were pretty legit.

I’m sort of sorry for the New START agreement. I know it was a middling treaty, but I had to do it. Now that I think about it, I’m probably more not-sorry than I am sorry about that, but ask me tomorrow.

I’m sorry that I will soon join the swollen ranks of former public servants who develop an urgent moral conscience about nuclear weapons just as soon as they lose any power to do anything about them.

I’m sorry I won a Nobel Prize for promises I totally failed to fulfill. But listen, some of that’s got to be on the award committee, right?

Let me leave you with my best and biggest apology. I knew when I came here that I wasn’t going to express remorse for the U.S. dropping the bomb or announce any new policy proposals. I knew that I was going to come here and make some pleasant sounds while standing on the graves of incinerated children. I was going to say that the United States has a moral obligation to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. Even though I’ve basically squandered the past seven years on that front.

So, above all, I’m sorry for wasting the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to Hiroshima, rather than leaving it for a leader who could have done something with it.

Thank you.

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is an Anglican priest, author, and activist. He lives in Toronto. 

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