The Current

Should Obama apologize for the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima?

The first sitting American president to visit the scene of the detonation made clear this wasn't to apologize, but many are debating whether he should.
While critics have dubbed this trip the 'apology tour,' some say the idea of apologizing could be dangerous for America during this election year. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

On August 6, 1945, an American atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Japan. Hundreds of thousands were killed and since then, no incumbent American president has visited the site.

On Friday, President Barack Obama became the first in a long line to visit the detonation site of the atomic bomb, where he laid a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. However, Obama did not apologize for his country's actions.

In advance of this trip, Obama did make it clear that he would not be apologizing, but now that the day has come many are questioning why he wouldn't apologize, while others support his decision. 

Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor who now lives in Toronto, was 13 when the bomb was dropped. Her account of that day is chilling and heart-wrenching. Thurlow says Hiroshima became "a city of death."

Survivor Setsuko Thurlow remembers August 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. She was 13 at the time.

While Thurlow was happy to see President Obama there to pay respect to those lost and their loved ones, she does wish an apology was made.

You don't force people to apologize to you, it has to be voluntary ... if he chose to apologize, I would consider it appropriate. If he chooses not to — and he didn't — I understand because of the political climate of the United States.- Setsuko Thurlow, Hiroshima survivor

Dr. Joseph Gerson, who is with the American Friends Service Committee, and Lawrence Haas, a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, are on opposite sides of this issue and each recently published an opinion piece about the potential apology from Obama. Gerson believes President Obama should have apologized, calling what happened at Hiroshima "an indiscriminate war crime." 

"My sense is that, in root, the myth, the false belief that the atomic bomb was necessary to end the war has, in a way, served as an ideological legitimator for the nuclear weapons program," Gerson says.

On the other side, Haas does not believe an apology is necessary. He says if it hadn't been the bomb, it would've been a land invasion, which would have cost an even greater number of lives lost.

To this, Thurlow retorts that Hiroshima was not soldiers in combat putting their lives on the line, but "indiscriminate slaughter ... of civilians, children, women and elderly — most of the population of the city at that time."

Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University, says that when it comes to the apology debate, the focus needs to be on what is currently happening in American politics.

If [Obama] had offered an apology, that would've played into Donald Trump's hands.- Peter Feaver, political science professor

This segment was produced by The Current's Waqas Chughtai.