Obama called for a moral revolution at Hiroshima. Will he lead it?

It was not the apology critics pre-emptively denounced nor the concrete call for disarmament that anti-nuclear activists had hoped for. The speech given by President Obama at Hiroshima on May 27 was instead a somber reflection on “humanity’s core contradiction”: that what sets us apart as a species, our ability to imagine a better world and to fashion the tools to build it, “also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.” Standing at the site where one unrestrained technological innovation reached its deadly conclusion, Mr. Obama called for a moral revolution, one that requires more than “mere words.”

It was an honest and challenging speech, worthy of the historic first visit by a U.S. president to the city leveled by the United States in 1945. But it also highlighted what may be the core contradiction of the Obama presidency: His soaring rhetoric has at times been in direct opposition to his policy agenda. He came into office determined to put the United States on a course toward disarmament. But today the U.S. nuclear arsenal is being modernized to the tune of $1 trillion over the next three decades. Nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles are being made smaller and more precise—which may make them more tempting to use.


But even if the United States were never to employ these diabolical weapons, the risks and costs associated with possessing and maintaining a nuclear stockpile are unacceptable. Popes from St. John XXIII to Francis have condemned the squandering of national wealth on arms while millions live in extreme poverty. Seven years ago in Prague, President Obama promised to “take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.” He has seven months left to follow through on that commitment.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Charles Erlinger
1 year 8 months ago
My understanding is that a nuclear warfare system and its command and control system that are approximately two full generations old is actually more dangerous than none. The process of modernizing (protecting from unreliability, undependability, and accidental catastrophe) and the process of advancing toward mutual reductions are not mutually exclusive and presentation as a binary choice seems an unhelpful blurring of the issue.
Richard Booth
1 year 8 months ago
Do you further suppose that the president enjoys upgrading defense at the expense of his social agenda? Perhaps a look at the changing world as well as his entire program and policy structure would help inform a more balanced approach to this topic. I realize this is an editorial, but really?


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

If you know nothing else about Lent, you probably know that people give things up.
James Martin, SJFebruary 19, 2018
Pope Francis has appointed 16 members (eight men and eight women) to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 17, 2018
This time the victims themselves are not having it. From the moment the first shots rang out, they captured the horror and broadcast it, forced the nation to confront it and talk about it.
Kevin ClarkeFebruary 16, 2018

Given the moment we are in, you might think a lot of shows on television would be trying to talk about current events or “America” in some way. But in point of fact, there aren’t that many. And even fewer are doing it well.

Jim McDermottFebruary 16, 2018