Standing at Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Kerry Fails to Apologize for America's Nuclear Bombings

John Kerry’s historic visit on Monday to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum was filled with emotion, with the U.S. secretary of state describing the display as a “gut-wrenching” reminder of the “extraordinary complexity of choices of war and of what war does to people, to communities, to countries, to the world.”


However, there was one thing conspicuously missing from Kerry’s statements: an apology from the United States, the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons in war. To this day, the U.S. government has refused to issue a formal apology for the attacks that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Kerry’s decision to omit such a gesture of accountability, while he stood with other foreign ministers from the Group of Seven, was premeditated. The following interaction between an unnamed senior state department official and a reporter at a press briefing in Hiroshima ahead of the event is telling:

QUESTION: Sir, tomorrow when the Secretary speaks about his experience visiting the museum, do you think it’s possible that he express kind of regrets or sorrow about what happened 70 years ago?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the – if you’re asking whether the Secretary of State came to Hiroshima to apologize, the answer is no. If you are asking whether the Secretary – and I think all Americans and all Japanese are filled with sorrow at the tragedies that befell so many of our countrymen – the answer is yes.

QUESTION: What’s the rationale? If using atomic weapons is such a terrible, terrible thing – and we all hear with the Iran talks or with North Korea that the use of a nuclear weapon would be such a horrible, horrible thing – I mean, are you telling the world don’t use them, but if you do, you don’t have to apologize?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No one who has – it sounds like most of you have – has been to the war memorial and seen the incredible damage inflicted by an atomic bomb can come away with anything other than a determination to see that nuclear weapons are never used again. And as the only nation ever to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States feels and has a particular responsibility to try to work towards global disarmament and in the meantime, certainly, work to block proliferation and to limit the access to missile material by those groups and people who would try to use them. There is no effort on the part of the people – the government of Hiroshima, the government of Japan – to seek an apology from the United States, nor is there any interest in reopening the question of blame for the sequence of events that culminated in the use of the atomic bomb.

The United States continues to pursue “extensive and expensive long-term modernization program for its “remaining nuclear delivery systems, warheads and production,” according to a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in June 2015.

“Despite renewed international interest in prioritizing nuclear disarmament, the modernization programs under way in the nuclear weapon-possessing states suggests that none of them will give up their nuclear arsenals in the foreseeable future,” said SIPRI’s senior researcher Shannon Kile at the time.

The Arms Control Association noted, in December 2015, “The Departments of Defense and Energy requested approximately $23 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 to maintain and upgrade these systems, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CB). CBO estimates that nuclear forces will cost $348 billion between FY 2015 and FY 2024. Three independent estimates put the expected total cost over the next 30 years at as much as $1 trillion.”

People across Japan have called on the United States to apologize for the attack. In a 2014 letter addressing President Barack Obama, representatives of eight peace and anti-nuclear organizations wrote, "We citizens of Hiroshima sincerely hope you will come. We also urge you to acknowledge that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was a crime against humanity involving the indiscriminate mass killing of civilians."

"Accordingly," they continued, "we urge you to offer an official apology to the victims of these war atrocities. We are convinced that an American apology is vital to achieve the abolishment of nuclear weapons."

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