Editorial: Ambassador Kennedy should visit Hiroshima with President Obama

Last week Caroline Kennedy arrived in Japan to assume her post as the new American ambassador to Japan. Tomorrow she will present her credentials to Emperor Akihito and formally start work.

As her diplomatic skills are an unknown quantity, there was skepticism among some about her appointment. But President Barack Obama places a great deal of trust in her, and as the daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, she has exceptional name value. We’d like to think that her appointment reflects the importance the administration places on Japan.

But as the ambassador of the country that dropped the atomic bomb, she also inspires mixed emotions in Hiroshima. Based on what Ms. Kennedy has done in the past and statements she has made recently, however, she does not seem to be the sort of person who will avoid the subject of the A-bombing.

In fact, she visited Hiroshima in 1978 and said she was very moved by what she saw here. In a video directed to the Japanese people that she prepared prior to her arrival, Ms. Kennedy said that her visit to Hiroshima “left me with a profound desire to work for a better, more peaceful world.”

We would like her to return to Hiroshima as soon as possible, preferably along with President Obama, so they can understand the atomic bomb survivors’ hopes not only for a peaceful world but also for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

According to the report published in this paper when she visited Hiroshima 35 years ago, the 20-year-old Ms. Kennedy, then a college student, was dressed simply in “corduroy pants and canvas shoes.” The article noted that while touring the Peace Memorial Museum she became engrossed in looking at the personal belongings of victims of the A-bombing and fell behind her uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and the rest of their group.

She must have been reminded of her father and glad that nuclear war had not broken out at the time of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. At that time, while pressing Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to remove its missiles from Cuba, President Kennedy resisted pressure from hard-liners in the U.S. to launch a pre-emptive strike, thus avoiding nuclear war and perhaps World War III.

Friday will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. His daughter must be filled with many emotions about coming in his stead and spending the day in Japan as U.S. ambassador. Upon her arrival, she said, “I am also proud to carry forward my father's legacy of public service. He had hoped to be the first U.S. president to visit Japan. So it is a special honor for me to be able to work to strengthen the close ties between our two great countries.” Ms. Kennedy and her husband, designer Ed Schlossberg, honeymooned in Nara and Kyoto.

These kinds of feelings for Hiroshima and Japan are more important than any government or diplomatic experience. Ms. Kennedy’s predecessor, John Roos, was the first U.S. ambassador to attend the annual August 6 Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima. We hope she will follow the path he paved and convey Hiroshima’s message to the people of the United States.

There are a number of pending issues between the U.S. and Japan, including reducing the burden on Okinawa of U.S. military bases. This issue is symbolized by the problem of the relocation of the air base in Futenma. Other matters of concern include the course of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the response to North Korea’s nuclear development, and how to address China and its military build-up.

Meanwhile President Obama, who has stressed his focus on Asia, is beset by domestic problems, including responding to the concerns of the U.S. Congress, and he seems intent on focusing more on internal matters. So there is reason for even higher expectations of Ms. Kennedy, who is believed to have the president’s ear.

Of course, there is skepticism about any visit to Hiroshima by Mr. Obama because, despite having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he has made no effort to end U.S. reliance on nuclear deterrence. Also, during his presidency the U.S. has repeatedly conducted a new type of nuclear test using the “Z machine” as well as sub-critical nuclear experiments.

But, precisely because he is a policymaker for a nuclear power, his firsthand understanding of the inhumanity of the atomic bomb is an essential milestone on the path toward a “world without nuclear weapons.” We would like the new ambassador to take the lead in bringing this about.

(Originally published on November 18, 2013)