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5 years on: Slow, steady shift in U.S. opinion on nukes

Washington, May 26 (Jiji Press)–As Thursday marks five years since former U.S. President Barack Obama visited the atomic-bombed Japanese city of Hiroshima, two Pulitzer Prize-winning historians see a slow but steady change in U.S. public opinion on nuclear weapons.


Obama’s trip to Hiroshima, hit by an atomic bomb in August 1945, was deeply significant in that it was the first time for a sitting president to visit the western Japan city, said Kai Bird, co-author of the Pulitzer-winning book “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.”


Obama, a public policy intellectual, “knew exactly what he was doing and how symbolic this visit would be,” Bird said.


“It’s an indication of a change that has happened in America,” the other co-author, Martin Sherwin, added. The two were interviewed together online.


“The important thing to acknowledge is the change in generations and the passing of the World War II generation which believed deeply that the bombings saved” the United States, Sherwin also said.


However, both said that Obama’s visit on May 27, 2016, did little to change the U.S. public’s view of Hiroshima and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


“I don’t know if it taught America anything,” Bird said. “I think it, sort of, was one of those symbolic foreign policy events that the average American did not pay any attention to.”


“We were expecting some major public shifts,” Sherwin said. “I think it pretty much blew over fairly fast.”


As a reason for that, Sherwin pointed to “the way (the event) was choreographed” to skirt around an apology for the bombings.


Bird added that it was a “major irony” for Obama to call for nuclear disarmament and also sign into law a budget that included an expensive modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.


“Most Americans still have a love affair with the atomic bomb,” he said.


“While most American historians may acknowledge…that the bomb was unnecessary for America to win the war, …this is apparently too complicated a narrative for the average American citizen to understand yet,” Bird explained.


Sherwin added that since 1945, the U.S. public has lived with the propaganda that the atomic bombings of Japan saved the United States, effectively deterred the Soviet Union and brought stability to the world.


“It will take, I think, a very long time to undo this myth,” he said.


However, both historians see a glimmer of hope.


“I think this romance (with the) bomb is beginning to fade, particularly with the younger generation,” Bird said. “We need better education in our high schools, in our colleges, for the new generation coming on.”


“If we go way back to 1945 and look at the debate, there has been over this long period of time a significant change,” Sherwin said, pointing to an increase in voices questioning whether the atomic bombings were necessary.


Sherwin noted the need to “provide the documentation so that people can come to their own conclusions.”

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