Obama, Hiroshima, and the Politics of War Crimes

05/21/20168 Comments

When it comes to American war crimes, there are no shortage of examples to choose from. For every well-known My Lai massacre there are a thousand lesser-known No Gun Ri massacres. For every Abu Ghraib that enters the lexicon there’s a thousand Azizabads that barely made the news. For every Wounded Knee there’s a thousand Camp Sumters.

There are always reasons. “They did it first.” “They started it.” “They deserved it.” But the reasons are always just excuses. A war crime is a war crime is a war crime.

And then there’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or should that be Fat Man and Little Boy? It has long been impossible to discuss the reality of these bombings, if it ever really were possible. It’s not just that the US government censored newspapers, silenced individuals and covered up medical reports to keep the public from learning the full truth about what happened in August of 1945; that much is understandable. It’s that when the Smithsonian tried to put those bombings in their context fifty years later there was such a public backlash against the idea that the museum officials scrapped the exhibit, saying they “made a basic error.” The public couldn’t handle the truth.

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