Dispatches from Nagasaki No.16

The Reaction in Nagasaki to President Obama’s Visit to Hiroshima

 Mr. Barack Obama, President of the United States, spoke at Hiroshima. It was the first time that a sitting U.S. president, representing the country that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and another on Nagasaki, the possessor of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, had come to visit one site of the destruction. There was much interest in this visit in Nagasaki as well, the other site of the destruction. Mr. Tomihisa Taue, Mayor of Nagasaki, was one of the first to welcome Mr. Obama’s decision to visit Hiroshima. The mayor expressed his hope is that this event would send a clear message to the world about the need to promote nuclear disarmament.

 After the president left for the next stop on his journey, Mr. Taue added that Mr. Obama would certainly be welcome to visit Nagasaki, even as a private citizen after the end of his term, where, the mayor hoped, he would meet with hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombing, in Nagasaki and engage in a dialogue with people active in the anti-nuclear weapon movement in that city as well. Mr. Taue stressed the importance of having leaders and top diplomats of nations around the world actually visit these sites, where they could see for themselves the “reality” of an atomic bombing.

 The people of Nagasaki all pretty much spoke in favor of Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, at least with regards to the visit itself. Yoshitoshi Fukahori (87), a hibakusha and now chairperson for the Committee for Photographs and Materials of the Atomic Bombing (Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace), said this of the president: “He was not able to say it in words, but I do think he expressed his regrets for what happened then.” Others include this comment by Shohei Tsuiki, an 89-year-old hibakusha: “I’m grateful that he came, and I did feel a sense of apology.” (Nagasaki Shimbun, May 27).

 With regards to the speech itself, some expressed dissatisfaction. Sakue Shimohira (81), a hibakusha and director of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council, said: “Even a little would have been enough, I just wanted some word of apology” (Nagasaki Shimbun, May 27). Hideo Tsuchiyama (91), former President of Nagasaki University and a hibakusha himself, spoke of his disappointment: “[President Obama] didn’t touch on concrete efforts toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.” (Nagasaki Shimbun, May 28). Hayato Kawano (22), a fourth-year student at Nagasaki University who is active in the anti-nuclear-weapon movement in Nagasaki and went to hear Mr. Obama in Hiroshima, said “I really wanted him to chart some path toward nuclear disarmament, some practical process for getting us there.”(Nagasaki Shimbun, May 27).

 In a 4 June public lecture on nuclear disarmament organized by the PCU (Prefecture City University) Nagasaki Council, a hibakusha had this to say: “The contents of [President Obama’s] speech were wonderful. But still, he was up there talking like a commentator, without expressing any sense of responsibility as the president of a nuclear superpower.” Another was particularly harsh in his assessment: “I cannot accept that President Obama brings his nuclear briefcase to the site of an atomic bombing and shows it off for all to see. It was a desecration of the memory of all hibakusha.”

 Generally speaking, Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima was favorably regarded as a “historical first step,” but his speech that followed did not meet up to the high expectations for it, instead leaving behind a pervading dissatisfaction along the lines of “I wish he would’ve said something deeper.”

 Looking to the future, Mayor Taue expressed his desire that Mr. Obama also visit Nagasaki, even after leaving office, and there take the time to hold direct dialogues with hibakusha and the next generation of people working for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Terumi Tanaka (84), a hibakusha and General Secretary of the Japan Confederation of A- and H- Bomb Sufferers Organizations, while assessing the visit as “a big first step toward the abolition of nuclear weapons,” is primarily interested in what happens from here, saying “now we will get to see just where this first step actually leads” (Nagasaki Shimbun, May 27). Similarly, Chisa Nishida (21), a fourth-year student at Nagasaki University and member of the committee that drafts the Nagasaki Peace Declaration, emphasizes that “this is the start line” (Asahi Shimbun, May 29), adding that what really counts is what specific policy measures will be applied toward the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons. It could be said that what the people of Nagasaki await now is not a few more words from President Obama, but rather some concrete action.


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