What was coverage of August 6 in Hiroshima like in the United States?

by Adam Beck, Staff of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

(Special to the web)

The attendance of U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos at this year's Peace Memorial Ceremony--the first official representative ever sent by the U.S. government on August 6--was widely reported and generally praised in Japan as an important step in advancing momentum for U.S. President Barack Obama's vision of "a world without nuclear weapons" and perhaps helping to pave the way for a visit to Hiroshima by Mr. Obama himself.

But what about in the United States? How broad was the coverage of the ceremony there? How did Americans react?

First, it's fair to say that Mr. Roos's attendance--as well as the attendance of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon--helped to inspire wider coverage of the ceremony in the United States than in recent years. The major U.S. news organizations all issued stories about the ceremony, on TV, in print, and online, though none featured it as a top story. As a result, awareness of the ceremony and its message of nuclear abolition did resonate in the United States to some degree, but it did not "break through" to the population as a whole.

The New York Times aptly reported that the ceremony "sidesteps the issue of responsibility and presents Hiroshima as a tragic warning to all against the use of nuclear weapons" and this clear, forward-thinking message with regard to nuclear abolition was a key focus of most U.S. coverage. Although Mr. Roos did not speak at the ceremony, the comments he made in a press release, including the statement "For the sake of future generations, we must continue to work together to realize a world without nuclear weapons," were widely quoted.

However, complicating this forward-thinking view was the still-volatile pull of the past. Although The Wall Street Journal reported that there appeared to be no widespread dissatisfaction among U.S. veterans over President Obama's decision to dispatch Mr. Roos to the ceremony, this is largely due to the fact that the Obama administration had stressed that Mr. Roos would not be issuing an apology for the bombings. Since many Americans still feel that the atomic bombings hastened the end of the war, the notion of an apology is a contentious and politically-divisive subject.

This emotionally-charged grip of history, which obscures the forward-thinking message of nuclear abolition, is sharply symbolized by the comments made by the son of the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In an interview with Fox News, a conservative news outlet, James Tibbets is quoted as saying: "It's an unsaid apology. Why wouldn't it be? Why would Roos go? It doesn't make any sense."

At the same time, Hiroshima's message of nuclear abolition and peace is evidently being heard in the United States. ABC News reported that "While the number of atomic bomb survivors is dwindling, their voices are growing stronger."

A clear example of this can be found in an essay Clifton Truman Daniel, U.S. President Harry Truman's oldest grandson, wrote for The Chicago Tribune on August 6. Although Mr. Daniel naturally wrote with understanding of his grandfather's wartime decision to drop the bombs, he also expressed sympathy for the A-bomb victims and survivors.

Mr. Daniel, a university administrator, described his experience earlier this year of meeting Masahiro Sasaki, Sadako Sasaki's older brother, and his son Yuji at the Tribute Center in New York, a memorial to those who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. His essay shows that he was moved by the meeting, accepting a chain of paper cranes from Masahiro and Yuji in a gesture of peace and friendship, holding the last tiny crane that Sadako folded before she died in his hand, and receiving an invitation to one day visit Hiroshima.

President Obama, of course, has received a number of invitations to visit Hiroshima since his speech in Prague last year calling for "a world without nuclear weapons." The New York Times, in fact, referred to these invitations in its article, saying: "The mayor and other residents of Hiroshima have repeatedly invited Mr. Obama to come to their city."

As the Associated Press wrote in its coverage of the ceremony: "Roos's visit appears to 'pave the way' for Obama to visit the two cities that were decimated by atomic bombs 65 years ago." Still, the Associated Press went on to point out that, in the United States, the idea of Mr. Obama visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which would make him the first sitting U.S. president to do so, would be "highly controversial."