What are your thoughts regarding a visit to Hiroshima by U.S. President Barack Obama?

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

This past summer, 65 years after the bombing, U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos was in attendance at the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima, marking the first time an official representative from the United States was present at the event. Some viewed the development as a step toward paving the way for a visit by Mr. Obama to Hiroshima.

However, the other day it was learned that the United States conducted a subcritical nuclear test in September. Many have felt a surge of disappointment, seeing this action as running counter to a world without nuclear weapons. A contradiction has been sensed in the president, advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons and yet acting to retain the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

What is the significance of inviting Mr. Obama to Hiroshima? What attitude should Hiroshima adopt? We interviewed three people on this subject: an A-bomb survivor, a researcher on peace issues, and the leader of a citizens' group.

Akihiro Takahashi, A-bomb survivor and former director of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

The emergence of a president calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons gave A-bomb survivors great hope. It has been my wish that Obama will convey his message for nuclear disarmament from Hiroshima to the world to accelerate the effort for the elimination of nuclear arms. That is why I wrote four letters to the president asking him to visit Hiroshima.

As a result, I was furious when I heard the news of the U.S. subcritical nuclear test and I felt disappointed in Obama. I'm now forced to reconsider my wish that he pay a visit to Hiroshima. Although subcritical nuclear tests do not produce an explosion, they are still nuclear tests. The U.S. act makes me devalue the significance of Obama's speech in Prague, where he appealed to the world for nuclear abolition.

Even before the recent test, I understood that it would be difficult for Obama to come to Hiroshima. Conservatives in the United States, who drum up opposition to the president, wield considerable power. A visit to Hiroshima would only be possible if the current U.S. administration has the strength to contain the political dissent that would fiercely oppose any attempt to make concessions to the A-bombed city.

Pursuing a dialogue with the United States about the bombings is impossible until Hiroshima stops demanding an apology from the U.S. side. The more forceful an attitude Hiroshima adopts, the more favorable this circumstance becomes to conservatives, who see an opportunity to attack the president. The call for an official remark from the United States that the bombings were a mistake would also be taken as a call for an apology.

From my experience offering tours of Peace Memorial Museum, as the director, to such international dignitaries as Pope John Paul II, I firmly believe that if we remain fixated on the bitterness of 65 years ago, we will stay in the same place forever, never breaking out to a new vantage point.

When I visited the United States in 1980, I had the chance to meet the late Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. "I don't intend to speak to you with bitterness," I said, offering my hand, which is crooked because of the burns I received in the bombing. He told me that, as a military man, he would drop the bomb again if the same orders were given. I was sad to hear that. Still, at least he agreed with my appeal that war should never occur again so that no more atomic bombs will be dropped.

The course we must take should focus on the future. Above all, President Obama should alter his thinking and take the stance that all nuclear tests, even subcritical nuclear tests, are not helpful to the cause of nuclear abolition. If he can adopt this attitude, I would still like him to visit Hiroshima. I hope he realizes how strongly the A-bomb survivors of Hiroshima oppose such nuclear testing.

I would like President Obama, while standing at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, to mourn the loss of lives that the atomic bombing caused. If he can grasp the horrific nature of the bombing, he will assuredly believe that the atomic bombs should not have been used. That will be enough.

Akihiro Takahashi
Akihiro Takahashi was born in Hiroshima in 1931. He was exposed to the atomic bomb at a distance of 1.4 kilometers from the hypocenter and suffered severe burns. He served as director of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum from 1979 to 1983. He received the Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Award in 2008 and was recently appointed a "Special Communicator for a World without Nuclear Weapons," a designation established by the Japanese government.

Motofumi Asai, president of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, Hiroshima City University

I am deeply concerned that expectations involving a visit to Hiroshima by U.S. President Barack Obama have advanced in isolation.

The phrase "No More Hiroshimas" is imbued with the belief that an atomic bomb should never have been used and must not be used in the future. This is why the A-bombed cities must get the United States to acknowledge that the atomic bombings were a mistake. If not, we will end up admitting that the use of nuclear weapons, in some cases, is permissible.

President Obama, in the latter part of his speech in Prague, made preliminary remarks on the elimination of nuclear weapons, suggesting that the goal of nuclear abolition would "not be reached quickly...perhaps not in my lifetime," and he made the argument that his nation would maintain an effective nuclear deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. The United States has not denied the possible use of nuclear weapons against North Korea and Iran in its nuclear strategy policy, either.

The U.S. subcritical nuclear experiment in September was nothing but the embodiment of the contents of the latter part of his Prague speech. The test came as no surprise.

The term "Obamajority" gives off the impression that Hiroshima will grant its unconditional consent to the U.S. nuclear strategy, which includes subcritical nuclear experiments. I think that President Obama himself has kept to the idea of "a world without nuclear weapons," with genuine feeling, since his school days. However, there are two aspects to his spirit: idealism and pragmatism. We should not misunderstand the essence of his spirit.

If the president were to visit Hiroshima and argue the contents of the latter part of his Prague speech and remain silent about U.S. responsibility for the atomic bombings, it may be thought that "the A-bombed city has acquiesced." Hiroshima could be used as a setting to justify not only the past atomic bombings but also the current U.S. nuclear strategy.

However, if the U.S. government recognizes and announces that "the atomic bombings were a mistake," President Obama's visit to Hiroshima would be of great significance. Whether the United States goes so far as to express an apology would be a matter of U.S. conscience. Needless to say, if the nation really thinks that the bombings were "a mistake," the feelings of apology would naturally be demonstrated.

It can be said that U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos's participation in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony was, politically, a well-calculated act. While the United States decided on Mr. Roos's visit to Hiroshima in consideration of Japan-U.S. relations, the ambassador behaved cautiously so that his visit would not be perceived as an apology in the United States.

The A-bombed cities should have the unwavering yardstick that "we support what contributes to nuclear abolition and oppose what does not." The A-bombed cities should question the deceit of the Japanese government with regard to the "nuclear umbrella" and press the government to uphold the three non-nuclear principles, while continuing to speak out about the mistake of the atomic bombings to the United States. The A-bombed cities' efforts toward nuclear abolition should not be swayed by the moves of President Obama.

Motofumi Asai
Mr. Asai was born in Aichi Prefecture in 1941. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1963 and served as director of the Division of International Agreements, as well as in the Division of Chinese Affairs, and as an envoy to the United Kingdom. After working as a professor at the University of Tokyo, Nihon University, and Meiji Gakuin University, Mr. Asai took up his current post as director of the Hiroshima Peace Institute in April 2005. His expertise is the political diplomacy of Japan.

Tomoko Watanabe, executive director of ANT-Hiroshima

The recent subcritical nuclear test under the Obama administration, which has called for the abolition of nuclear weapons, is a double standard and must be criticized. At the same time, President Obama has stated clearly that the ultimate goal is nuclear abolition. The president's job includes acting strategically with national politics in mind.

I don't think the nuclear test undercuts the value of a visit by the president to Hiroshima. Such a visit would still have a significant impact on the world. It would also spur further networking among civil society.

Hiroshima has a power that people can only feel when they actually visit the city. To understand the devastating effects that nuclear weapons bring about, I wish every person on earth could come to Hiroshima. In this respect, there is no difference between visits by President Obama and the schoolchildren coming to Hiroshima for peace studies: there is equal significance in their grasp of the consequences of the atomic bombing.

On the other hand, the visits of dignitaries to Hiroshima have a far larger impact on the world than that of ordinary people. When U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos attended the Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6, many were disappointed at his silence during the event. However, the significance of his presence should not be underestimated. The fact that major U.S. TV stations aired the ceremony and related events show that American interest in the ceremony grew especially large this year. Ambassador Roos's attendance was an important step that has stirred interest in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

This interest would grow further if Obama visited Hiroshima. I hope such a visit would be persuasive to both the president and the citizens of Hiroshima. It is important that a point of agreement be found. Part of the inscription on the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, which says "…we shall not repeat the evil," could serve as a key.

Though no subject appears in the Japanese inscription, the English translation does have a subject: "We." I suggest that the point of agreement between the president and Hiroshima citizens be the interpretation of the inscription which leads us to vow that we will never use nuclear weapons again, and thus we all must bear the responsibility for eliminating them.

Some may criticize that the idea blurs responsibility for the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. However, only when Hiroshima, the victim of the bombing, and the president of the nation which dropped the bomb can find a point of agreement will we be able to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons.

It is the Japanese government's responsibility to communicate to the world the true effects of the A-bomb damage, but it leaves this responsibility to local governments. If the Japanese government maintains that it is spearheading international efforts for nuclear abolition, then now is the time to make diplomatic efforts to realize a visit to Hiroshima by President Obama.

If the visit is fulfilled, I hope the president will mourn the loss of lives taken in the bombing and listen closely to the A-bomb survivors. This could lead to a reassessment of the idea that the atomic bombing was necessary. President Obama's visit to Hiroshima would then have a truly historic significance.

Tomoko Watanabe
Tomoko Watanabe was born in Hiroshima in 1953. She is a second generation A-bomb survivor. In 1989, she established the NPO ANT-Hiroshima (Asian Network of Trust) to engage in peace education and support for developing countries. She is on the Board of Education of Hiroshima City and serves as a councilor at the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation.


U.S. President Barack Obama and the City of Hiroshima
President Obama said last November: "I would be honored to have the opportunity to visit those cities [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] at some point during my presidency." This past January, when Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, visiting the White House as a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, made a verbal appeal to Mr. Obama to visit Hiroshima, the president responded that he would like to do so. Mr. Obama will come to Japan in November to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2010 in Yokohama. Around the same time, "The 2010 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates" will be held in Hiroshima. An invitation to the summit has been sent to the president, as the Peace Prize laureate of 2009, but no reply to this invitation has reportedly been made.

(Originally published on October 17, 2010)