Editorial: Hiroshima finds hope in President Obama’s visit to the A-bombed city

by Noritaka Egusa, Editor-in-Chief

U.S. President Barack Obama made a long, philosophical speech in Hiroshima. He flatly rejected the notion of war itself, and the suffering it inflicts on innocent lives, and expressed firm conviction that a world without nuclear weapons must be achieved. He deplored how advances in science have also brought ruin to human lives and cultures, stressing the responsibility of humankind learning from its past.

He delivered a dignified speech to the people of the world in clear, powerful terms.

At the same time, his remarks were short of concrete resolve. While he mourned for all lives lost in war, he made no apology for the atomic bombings, as anticipated. And though he is the leader of a nuclear superpower, he offered no specific plan for eliminating nuclear arms.

It is uncertain whether this speech would be readily accepted by A-bomb survivors and others who lost loved ones in the atomic bombings.

Mr. Obama is the twelfth president since President Harry S. Truman, the man who ordered the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mr. Obama set foot on Hiroshima soil near the hypocenter, the heart of sorrow for so many. He visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and saw some personal belongings of A-bomb victims, then moved to the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims and offered a wreath of flowers. Standing before the cenotaph, he closed his eyes for five seconds in silent prayer. In anyone’s view, this was clearly a historic moment.

Only Mr. Obama may have been able to carry out a visit to Hiroshima in the capacity of president. He surely understood how horrifying it must have been for the victims as they sought to flee the inferno all around them. Those who managed to escape with their lives could feel no gladness when blaming themselves for surviving while so many others died. We believe Mr. Obama has understood this point, too.

Because many survivors feel guilty for having lived, they have long hidden away this cry, deep in their minds: “Restore things as they were.” We had high hopes that Mr. Obama, while in Hiroshima, would declare an end to nuclear deterrence, even if an apology would not be made.

As president, though, perhaps the best he could do was condemn war while avoiding words that could be construed as an apology. Sadly, the reality of international politics is such that nuclear abolition remains a distant goal.

Still, the people of Hiroshima must not give up. In that sense, we can find hope in Mr. Obama’s statement that Hiroshima and Nagasaki could ultimately be seen “not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening.”

Mr. Obama’s presence in the A-bombed city can be interpreted as an acknowledgment that the atomic bombings were inhumane acts. His speech will long be remembered as a heartfelt appeal from a man who learned the reality of what transpired in Hiroshima nearly 71 years ago.

(Originally published on May 28, 2016)