I have mixed feelings on the subject of President Obama bowing to Japanese Emperor Akihito because while I understand his move as a symbolic one of the U.S. being less egotistical and prideful than we’ve gained a reputation for in recent years and willing to meet others without affectations of superiority, I also can’t help but think of the many World War II veterans, who we just celebrated on Wednesday and what they might think about the action?
First things first, I think it’s important to point out that both Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon bowed to Japanese Emperors. It’s not an unprecedented action from either side of the political spectrum. And President Obama certainly set a precedent when he bowed to Saudi Arabia’s King. Had he not done so in this instance it could have looked very suspicious.
Regardless of the intent or the precedent of other president’s from each party having done it, I still have some issues with our President bowing to anyone. When two people bow to one and other, they show mutual respect. When one person bows to another, they show deference. While an arrogant, smug United States is bad for the world, it’s not as bad as a meek one could be. The message our President should be sending to one and all is that we are willing and ready to meet as equals. Bowing to an individual does not communicate that at all. It is a sign of weakness.
A man as eloquent as President Obama should be able to communicate his desire to meet and speak as equals without the grand symbolic gestures. He should also listen to the people and realize that they are not in favor of him bowing and scarping. Our last administration never admitted a wrong or made an apology—the Change I Believed In promised it would when called for, but so far it has not.
I keep coming back to the veterans of WWII, specifically those who fought in the Pacific. I’ve seen many wonderful documentaries about Japanese and American veterans meeting on bits of land where they fought each other and killed each other’s friends and comrades. They have found peace. They embrace. The forgive one and other. They share a deep and impenetrable bond and it’s an amazing testament to humanity.
Individually, it’s a wonderful thing and something to be celebrated, but in the grander scheme of things can you imagine a day, some sixty-something years in the future when a President of the United States bows to a leader of al-Qaeda? No matter what passes between now and that hypothetical day to establish friendship, don’t you think it would be an insult to those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001?
Each side has come a long way since Pearl Harbor, and Japan has paid a great price for their actions of December 7th, 1941. I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t be allies, or friends; that we shouldn’t be respectful of each other and the traditions we each hold dear, but a man who has called Hawaii home should never forget what happened there. No matter how mended the fence, or how strongly new ties have been formed, the leader of our nation should be respectful enough of those who died at Pearl Harbor to never bow to office that ordered their deaths.
There are better ways to make friends, Mr. President, than by being symbolically humble. For the sake of those entombed in the harbor, you should apologize and find a better way.