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

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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 11 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 11 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

 Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass marking the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 20. The pope at his "Regina Coeli" announced that he will create 14 new cardinals June 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Eleven of the new cardinals are under the age of 80 and so have the right to vote in the next conclave.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 20, 2018
Images: AP, Wikimedia Commons
Bishop Curry described Teilhard as “one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century.”
Angelo Jesus CantaMay 19, 2018
Both men were close to each other in life, and both are much revered by Pope Francis.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 19, 2018
The Gaza Nakba demonstrations this week have done nothing to advance the situation of Palestinian refugees, nor did they provide relief to the people of Gaza, who dwell in an open-air prison, hemmed in and oppressed at every turn.