“It’s 3 minutes to midnight!” my wife exclaimed with an irritated look. “Why are you playing with that alarm clock and blasting The Stones?”
I looked up from the wind-up alarm clock I picked up at a Castle Street antique shop. “Hoping rock ‘n’ roll will save the universe,” I said.”
“‘Star Trek Beyond’ has warped your brain, hasn’t it?” she noted.
“The Doomsday Clock is 3 minutes to midnight. I don’t want the bell to toll for all of us in January because we put a midnight gambler in the Oval Office. Do you?”
My wife made a snack. “Crank it up! I’ve got no ‘Sympathy for the Devil’!” she responded.
On August 6 and August 9, 1945, we ushered in the Atomic Age at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1947 The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board initially set the Doomsday Clock. Using the atomic bomb may have hastened the end of the war, but it wasn’t our only choice. In July 1945, the day after the first successful atomic test, 70 atomic scientists, including Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, presented a letter urging Mr. Truman to hold a demonstration for Japanese command and only use the bomb on a living population if Japan didn’t surrender. Many ethicists still consider it a more palatable moral option.
Decisions to use nuclear weapons were morally and ethically complex in 1945, and they remain heart-wrenchingly complex now. For the past seven years, we have been fortunate to have a commander-in-chief who has a heart necessary to grasp the complexity of his decisions. The words spoken by President Obama when he became the first sitting American to visit the Peace Memorial at Hiroshima in May 2016 show an emotionally mature individual with the compassion to grasp the moral complexity of the world and his office. Far from apologizing, he called for “a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”
President Obama and his administration have certainly fallen morally asleep at times, but his words are important. Words set the tone of the conversation and provide a path for progress. Early in his first term, President Obama’s poise and peaceful intent differed so dramatically from the bumbling bluster of his predecessor, the Nobel committee awarded him the 2009 Peace Prize. Despite his enemies continually shouting about how his weakness triggered a loss of worldwide respect, global perception of American leadership skyrocketed as soon as he replaced Bush. Although the international community is still unhappy with our surveillance state, our use of drones, and other moral failings, global perception of Obama’s strength as a leader remains high, and confidence in America’s ability to lead rebounded.
President Obama understands not to shout or speculate about where to use nukes, especially in leading a nation with the strongest military on the globe and most destructive weapons humanity has ever created. Former Republican President Teddy Roosevelt might have tweeted this policy, “Speak softly but carry a big stick,” but Obama understands bombastic blasts of a schoolyard bully aren’t perceived as “strength” in Moscow, Syria or Bejing. He also knows disrespecting former POW Senator John McCain’s military service is unconscionable, particularly when coming from a certain someone who received five deferments, one of which was deemed “unfit” to serve in the same war. President Obama has never ridiculed parents of a slain Muslim US soldier, nor disrespected every wounded warrior by saying even in jest, “I really wanted a Purple Heart, but this is much easier.”