The American presidency has developed influence beyond those enumerated in our Constitution. As America’s power and prestige has grown, so has a president’s ability to color world opinion. It’s the bully pulpit that Theodore Roosevelt was fond of referring to. President Obama used the power and prestige of his office this past week to bring attention to Hiroshima, the place where the United States dropped an atomic bomb and hastened the end for Japan in World War II.
Presidents bring a view of America and the world to office with them. President Obama has spent his presidency nurturing his view of America as an oppressive power and has taken every opportunity to make amends for this characterization.
The president danced carefully last week not to advertise his visit as an American apology for our use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end that terrible and costly war, but here in New Hampshire, it sure did feel like an apology to me.
President Obama and I are the same age, our birthday only two weeks apart. It has surprised me since I first became aware of the junior senator from Illinois, that his and our view of America and the world could not be more different. I grew up believing that the American people were good and generous and that democracy, free market capitalism, and rugged individualism were the genuine best path to peace and prosperity.
With this year’s Memorial Day remembrance upon us, it is sad that I wonder if our president has any plans to bookend his Japan tour with one to Hawaii to commemorate the 75’th anniversary of Pearl Harbor this December.
World War II became real to our people on the first Sunday in December, 1941. It is an honor and duty for a sitting president to remember and commemorate the heroics and sacrifice demonstrated by our service men and women and citizenry at that time and place.
There are a dwindling number of Pearl Harbor survivors left.
During the 50th anniversary of Japan’s attack, then-President George H.W. Bush offered heartfelt remarks honoring the young men of his generation who demonstrated great valor at Pearl Harbor. He spoke of a “bright Sunday morning” where “thousands of troops slept soundly in their bunks. Some who were awake looked out and savored the still and tranquil harbor”. He spoke of how a far away war becomes real, in “one horrible instant”.
He spoke of the Arizona.
Every 15 seconds a drop of oil still rises from the Arizona and drifts to the surface. As it spreads across the water, we recall the ancient poet: “In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair against our will comes wisdom through the awful grace of God” With each drop, it is though God Himself were crying.
Only 334 of a full complement of over 1500 officers and crew of the Arizona survived that day. The last surviving officer of the Arizona, Ensign Joseph Langdell, passed in 2014. He was 100 years of age. His obituary said he was born in my home state of New Hampshire. He was born the same year the hull of the Arizona was laid down in the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard.
Mr. Langdell started his career as a junior accountant in Boston before patriotism got the best of him and he enlisted in the navy in 1940 in response to the war raging in Europe. His decision to serve brought him to Pearl Harbor and the battleship Arizona.
You can count on one hand the number of surviving crew of the Arizona.
Last Thursday another survivor passed. Adolph Hengl, an aircraft maintenance officer aboard the Tennessee left us, aged 99. His ship was moored next to the Arizona. As he tells it, he came out to the Quarter Deck as a bomb exploded sending him flying into a metal wall.
Bush concluded in his remarks twenty-five years ago at Pearl Harbor with the following.
The heroes of the Harbor … fought for a world of peace, not war, where children’s dreams speak more loudly than the brashest tyrant’s guns. Because of them, this memorial lives to pass its lessons from one generation to the next, lessons as clear is this Pacific sky.
If I were in the president’s place, I would not have toured Hiroshima last week. Any person with an ounce of humanity would regret the terrible loss of life at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and wish that it were not so. The Japanese Empire acted as the brashest of tyrants leading and all the way through World War II. President Truman ended the war in the Pacific swiftly and saved American lives. That was a moral decision and action.
Mr. President, please do not forget to honor and remember “the heroes of the harbor” with the grace and honor they deserve before they pass from this place.
Photo credit: Steve Berman took the photo from the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in 2008. It is looking up through the “bridge” over the ship’s sunken hull where oil an oil slick still marks her final resting place. The photo below was taken from the same location on the same day.