Commentary: Hopes for President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima

by Shinsaku Satao, Chief Editorial Writer

I am a newspaperman and the son of an A-bombed father who entered the hypocenter area in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. On the day the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, my father, who was a member of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the time, saw the mushroom cloud in the western sky. The day after the bombing, he was sent to the charred city to help restore services at Hiroshima’s main train station. He told me about the terrible conditions inside the station, with debris that included watches, school badges, and a shoe with a severed leg.

My father and his comrades were a group of young sailors who had no experience on a ship and had not been properly trained. It seems they had been assembled into a makeshift unit to prepare for the possible battle to defend the Japanese mainland against invading U.S. forces.

I heard these stories from my father when he was over the age of 60. It was after my sisters got married that he became moved to recount his A-bomb experience to his grandchildren. A great number of people who entered the devastated city after the atomic bombing to aid the relief efforts, like my father, were exposed to the bomb’s radiation and suffered its harmful effects. Many would die young. My father lived to the age of 83 and died from a lung ailment. But even today, it’s hard to say how much his health was compromised by his exposure to the atomic bomb.

The suffering of those who were directly exposed to the bomb’s flash and blast was certainly greater than what my father faced. The horror experienced by the victims who were burnt alive at the time of the atomic bombing is beyond our imagination. The ground upon which you will step today, President Obama, holds the memory of so many dead.

When I first heard the news of your visit to Hiroshima, I thought it would be best not to come if you didn’t feel inclined to apology for a nuclear attack on a city with scores of civilians. However, I gradually changed my mind after reading the opinions of intellectuals and ordinary citizens that were published daily in the Chugoku Shimbun. One person said that the dignity of Hiroshima should be upheld by not directing words of bitterness at the president. I was moved by this view.

So, Mr. President, I plan to listen carefully to your words when you speak in this city. Still, I would like to say something to you. I would like you to reflect on why the United States carried out these nuclear attacks on cities in Japan, when Japan already seemed certain to lose the war. The United States may have found it necessary to test this new weapon, which had required such enormous expense, and dampen Japan’s will to fight, but by no means did the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki need to be attacked to ensure your nation’s victory.

I would also ask that you avoid emphasizing the idea of the close alliance that the United States and Japan have developed when you speak in Hiroshima. This has nothing to do with mourning the dead. Moreover, this sort of message delivered from Hiroshima, while disregarding the current fury of the people of Okinawa over the sexual assault and murder allegedly committed by a former U.S. marine, would be unbearable.

At the same time, I have many hopes for you, Mr. President, after your interaction with A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima today. While your presidency will soon end, I truly hope you will go on serving as an opinion leader who can help counter the negative currents of your nation, including the sentiments voiced by one presidential candidate who has loudly declared that Japan should move toward possessing its own nuclear arsenal.

(Originally published on May 27, 2016)