The Hard Lessons of the Past and the Difficult Present

While Japan remembers the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the USA and North Korea exchange threats

At the beginning of August the whole world remembers one of the most frightening pages of history – atomic bomb by the U.S that hit the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's been 72 years today since the first atomic bomb was used in war. Remembrance events gathered in Japan various representatives from many states. Japanese politicians and guests spoke about the need to strengthen international cooperation and called for a nuclear-free world(1).

The public attention is traditionally focused on the Hiroshima bombing which occurred on 6 August. At the same time people commemorate the tragedy of Nagasaki, a major port city that historically was considered to be the Japan’s gateway to the rest of the world and suffered from a nuclear attack on 9 August. Complexities of historical events and explanations from the American side why they needed to hit these cities in early August 1945 still cause much debate, even among researchers.

We should give historians the right to deal with the fact if the atomic bombing was justified or not. However, during a visit to Hiroshima on May 27, 2016 then-US President Barack Obama in an interview stressed that “in the harsh war conditions, the leaders have to make difficult decisions[2].” Thus, this is the only American President who not only didn’t bring any apologies on behalf of his state, but in fact justified the actions of the Harry Truman’s administration.

Tokyo, in its turn, also is not going to apologize for Pearl Harbor, which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited in December 2016. China and South Korea which suffered from the actions of the Japanese military man in 30-40 years of the last century pay attention a lot to this. In the Japanese and American political rhetoric, this approach is justified by the need to focus on the future, rather than on the past mistakes. The historical complexity of interstate relations certainly shouldn’t render a decisive influence on the modern architecture of international relations. But we should not forget the tragic lessons of history. Attempts to demonstrate the power, guided by national interests, has already led to large-scale tragedies. USA doesn’t want to admit past mistakes and guarantee a freedom to repeat the same aggressive steps.

Paradoxically, on the eve of day of memory and grief August 9, 2017 the USA and the DPRK exchanged unprecedented threats[3], which eclipsed calls for peace by Japanese politicians and ordinary citizens. D. Trump’s words that the North Korea will face "fire and fury [USA] which the world has never seen" is surprisingly in tune with the famous phrase of Harry Truman about the "devastating steel rain" for Japan. Such rhetoric, provoking retaliatory actions by Pyongyang shows how much the world is still far from understanding the lessons of history. In the relations of States there is a threshold that is dangerous to cross. Otherwise, such a policy will conflict with unpredictable consequences, the witnesses of which I would not want to become again and again.

[1] Nagasaki mayor, marking 72nd anniversary of bombing, demands Japan join nuclear ban treaty // The Japan Times. 2017. Aug. 9. URL: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/08/09/national/nagasaki-mayor-marking-72nd-anniversary-bombing-demands-japan-join-nuclear-ban-treaty/#.WYr_N9JJaUk

[2] Exclusive Interview with President Obama // NHK. Editor’s Picks. 2016. May 22. URL: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/editors/5/20160522/

[3] Trump threatens to unleash ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea as Pyongyang takes aim at Guam // Japan Times. 2017. Aug. 9. URL: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/08/09/asia-pacific/trump-threatens-to-unleash-fire-and-fury-on-north-korea-as-pyongyang-threatens-guam/#.WYr_BNJJaUk

Hiroshima Nagasaki Japan