Barack Obama, Pacifist

Barack Obama spoke in Hiroshima yesterday. The full text of his speech is here. Obama did not quite apologize for America’s use of the atomic bomb to bring WWII to an end, as some had feared. But his speech was nevertheless deeply revealing of his world view.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that parts of Obama’s address were good, or at least unexceptionable. Peace is better than war! Modern man has developed terrible weapons, and the deaths of tens of millions are tragic. But it was in his specific references to Hiroshima and the weapons used there where Obama revealed his radical core.

This is what Obama had to say about the Second World War:

The World War that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet, the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes; an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.

That is true. The war grew out of the “base instinct for domination or conquest” that prevailed in Germany, Japan and Italy. But note that Obama does not name the aggressors. He does not distinguish between the nations that started the war and those that defended themselves. He refers indifferently to the guilty and the innocent as “the wealthiest and most powerful of nations” “among whom” the war was fought–what a weaselly locution!

Similarly, Obama draws no distinction between America’s use of the atomic bomb to end the war in the Pacific and Germany’s concentration camps:

There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war — memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism; graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity. Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction….

The lesson that Obama draws from World War II–the most epic conflict between good and evil in history–is the same for all nations. Those who started the war have nothing special to learn from it. On the contrary, it seems that the United States and others who possess nuclear arsenals are, at least implicitly, the most indicted by history:

We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations –- and the alliances that we’ve formed -– must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.

What Obama calls the logic of fear is actually the logic of deterrence. But the practical need to defend oneself from evil regimes is not Obama’s concern. Rather, he calls for a “moral revolution” that will make war obsolete.

Whatever. There is no mystery as to Obama’s ideology, at least as he expressed it in Hiroshima. Obama is an old-fashioned pacifist: indiscriminately hostile to the use of force, he papers over the fundamental difference between aggression and self-defense. Pacifism of this sort was rather common during the years between the wars, but World War II refuted it, seemingly, forever. It seems that the passage of time has allowed fuzzy thinkers like Barack Obama to use that black-and-white conflict to illustrate, not the need for eternal vigilance in defense of liberty, but rather the moral case for disarmament. How far we have come in a few short years.