Among the numerous events that serve as to illustrate the long and vicious history of the U.S. war machine, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the Vietnam War stand out in the collective global consciousness.
With the end of World War II looming, U.S. President Harry Truman gave the green light for the use of weapons with unprecedented destructive force. U.S. leaders knew what effects these attacks would have, having witnessed their detonation during the Manhattan Project in the New Mexico desert.
According to UCLA’s Children of the Atomic Bomb research project, "conservative" estimates put the Hiroshima death toll at 150,000 people, with 75,000 perishing in the Nagasaki bombing.
While Truman and other leaders argued that these were necessary to defeat the Japanese, most U.S. military officials disagreed.
“The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace,” Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Chester W. Nimitz said. “The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of view, in the defeat of Japan.” General and later President Dwight Eisenhower concurred.
Two decades later, having maintained its military activity in Asia (Korea, Malaysia, Philippines), the United States decided to take up the cause abandoned by France in "Indochina." The formerly colonized peoples in what is now Vietnam (as well as Laos and Cambodia), had been engaging in a decades-long national liberation struggle — first against the Japanese, and later the French.
WATCH: U.S. Has Always Claimed Hiroshima Bombing Was Necessary
U.S. foreign policy had already successfully intervened to prevent “the spread of communism” in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere (with a significant body count to show for it), so few could have predicted the outcome of the direct intervention, including troops. In that decade of U.S. military activity, estimates of the total death toll range from 1.3 million to 3.9 million. This includes 164,000 Vietnamese civilians killed in the south, along with 65,000 civilians in the north killed by U.S. bombing.
In both Japan and Vietnam, the human toll of these atrocities are still felt.
This is the contemporary history of the places that U.S. President Barack Obama is in during one of the last major visits in his farewell tour. However the Nobel Peace Prize winner will not be apologizing for these notorious atrocities.
The White House has stated that this is not an apology tour, and when asked about whether Obama would also have bombed Hiroshima, spokesman Josh Earnest said "I think what the president does appreciate is that President Truman made this decision for the right reasons.”
In fairness, it doesn’t appear like any government is really looking re-hash the past.
Vietnam is interested in having the U.S. drop its lethal arms embargo, and all three countries are looking to collaborate regarding the recent disputes with China on the South China Sea. Moreover, Obama is also looking to push the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which is opposed by many democrats (including the two candidates for President).
Clearly, this tour is not about healing wounds or atoning for past mistakes, even if only symbolically. Rather, this is Obama’s last effort to stem China’s military and economic ascent.There is little doubt that many hoped Obama would spend some of part of his 8 years doing something — even just giving a symbolic apology — about these crimes. However once again, Obama has added to the long list of disappointments that many of these same people will remember as his legacy.