Hiroshima Memo: Reciprocal visits to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor by U.S. and Japan leaders should promote the abolition of nuclear weapons and mutual reconciliation

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

On the sunny afternoon of October 4, John Roos, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Mr. Roos offered a wreath of flowers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims and prayed to mourn the lost lives. Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba led Mr. Roos and his family on a tour of the park and the ambassador, his son, and his parents each laid a paper crane at the Children's Peace Monument.

Afterwards, they toured Peace Memorial Museum for about an hour without a guide, and looked carefully at the exhibits. I watched as Ambassador Roos and his son stood in front of displays that showed keloids, the scar-like tissue peculiar to the severe burns of A-bomb survivors, and the black rain, the radioactive rain that fell after the blast. I was deeply impressed to see the ambassador discussing the photos with his son.

"A visit to Hiroshima is a powerful reminder of the destructiveness of nuclear weapons, and underscores the importance of working together to seek the peace and security of a world without them."

This is the message that Ambassador Roos wrote in the museum's guest book. Though he did not accept questions from reporters, his visit to Hiroshima with his son and his parents revealed his frame of mind. The grave look on his face while at the museum conveyed his humility in wanting to learn what had happened under the mushroom cloud caused by the atomic bombing of August 6, 1945.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the third highest-ranking official after the president and vice president, visited Hiroshima last September to attend the G8 Speakers' Summit. As with Ambassador Roos, I was moved by the concern Ms. Pelosi conveyed as she toured Peace Memorial Museum with other speakers and listened to the testimony of an A-bomb survivor.

President Obama, a Democrat who works closely with Ms. Pelosi, surely heard her impressions of Hiroshima. Now Mr. Obama will receive further impressions from Ambassador Roos. Mr. Roos, who was an important fundraiser for Mr. Obama during his presidential campaign, is considered a close friend of the president.

Nine months after assuming office, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for, in part, pursuing "a world without nuclear weapons." In June, the president visited Dresden, Germany, the site of devastating air raids by U.S. and British forces toward the end of World War II, and created an atmosphere of rapprochement. In the same vein, Mr. Obama may have visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mind. It would not be surprising if the timing of a visit to Japan by the president is already being considered by the State Department and the U.S. Embassy here in order to issue an appeal for nuclear abolition not only to the citizens of the United States and Japan, but to the people of the world.

Prime Minister Hatoyama touched upon his own experiences of attending the Peace Memorial Ceremonies held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August when speaking at the UN Security Council Summit in late September. At the meeting, attended by the leaders of 15 nations, including the U.S. and Russia, the prime minister said, "I could not help feeling choked with emotion seeing people who still suffer from the after-effects of radiation over 60 years after the bombings. I would like to encourage you to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and absorb with your own eyes and ears the cruelty of nuclear weapons."

Such remarks were rightly spoken by the prime minister of the country that suffered the atomic bombings. However, calling upon world leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not enough. As I wrote in my column dated July 20, 2009, in terms of the nation's ties to the United States, the Japanese prime minister should pay a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and offer flowers to mourn the lives lost not only in Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought on war between Japan and the United States, but throughout World War II.

Hiroshima's appeal to the world is not merely for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Hiroshima seeks to be a city that rejects war itself, nurturing reconciliation over antagonisms of the past and hope for the future of humankind. This can be our only response to the victims who perished in the first atomic bombing in human history.

As Fumio Matsuo, former Washington bureau chief of Kyodo News, points out, such reciprocal visits by the leaders of Japan and the United States to Pearl Harbor and an A-bombed city, respectively, would not only promote reconciliation between the two countries, it could develop into an opportunity for Japan to reconcile with its neighbors, including China and South Korea, which Japan invaded and colonized during World War II. Without building mutual trust between Japan and other Asian nations, realizing the "East Asian Community" that Prime Minister Hatoyama has proposed will be a futile task.

Hiroshima, the A-bombed city, was also the point of departure for many Japanese soldiers sent to battlefields in Asia during the war. In this sense, Hiroshima would seem an appropriate site for reciprocal visits between the leader of Japan and the leaders of the United States and Asian countries.

(Originally published on Oct. 19, 2009)

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