Editorial: After Obama, Hiroshima must persist in speaking out to the world

On August 6, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was crowded with long lines of visitors. Among the other exhibits, they were probably eager to get a glimpse of the paper cranes folded by U.S. President Barack Obama. In many ways, this year’s anniversary of the atomic bombing seemed to be heavily influenced by Mr. Obama’s recent visit to Hiroshima.

One thing for certain is that the world’s awareness of Hiroshima has increased since the president came to Hiroshima in May, even though it has been more than 70 years since the A-bomb attack. This struck me as I walked through the Peace Memorial Park, at the edge of the Peace Memorial Ceremony venue.

We know that the joy felt over his visit is now over, and that the true nature of Mr. Obama’s speech made in Hiroshima must be considered before moving on to the next stage of our efforts to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons. August 6 was therefore a welcome opportunity to strengthen Hiroshima’s ability to spread the message of nuclear abolition.

In general, though, I cannot help but feel that there was something lacking in the Peace Memorial Ceremony.

In the Peace Declaration made by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, he stressed the devastation wrought by the atomic bomb by saying that this bomb, this “absolute evil,” annihilated the entire city. It is notable, too, that the declaration mentioned the foreign victims of the A-bomb attack, including Koreans, other Asians, and American prisoners of war. Citing a part of Mr. Obama’s speech, which called for the courage to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, Mr. Matsui called on the people of the world to “unify and manifest our passion in action” in order to advance toward a world free of nuclear weapons. These points by the mayor carried important messages.

Still, the Peace Declaration seemed to be lacking in concrete steps for moving forward with the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons. Mr. Matsui said that he expects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came to Hiroshima with President Obama in May, to show leadership in nuclear disarmament efforts, but Mr. Matsui offered no further specifics. With regard to a nuclear weapons convention, the highest desire of the A-bomb survivors, Mr. Matsui’s assertion that “a legal framework is indispensable” came across as a general theory. What Mr. Matsui should do is directly urge the Japanese government to take action to enact legislation that will help manifest the elimination of nuclear arms.

The same thing can be said of Mr. Abe. Whether in his address at the Peace Memorial Ceremony or in press interviews, he has not conveyed an effective course forward for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

This year, Mr. Abe referred to Japan’s adherence to the three non-nuclear principles (not producing, possessing, or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory) and the enhancement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but he did not mention a nuclear weapons convention. Mr. Abe was criticized for not mentioning the three non-nuclear principles in his address at last year’s Peace Memorial Ceremony. What has happened to his determination since promising, in his speech in May in Hiroshima, to create a world without nuclear weapons?

In addition, when Mr. Abe was asked about newly appointed Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who has previously mentioned the possibility of Japan possessing nuclear weapons, he stressed the plain fact that Japan is forbidden from holding nuclear arms and therefore this subject cannot be a point of discussion. This remark, which should have been taken for granted, ended up capturing the headlines concerning his interview with the press.

One reason why future prospects for nuclear abolition “after Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima” are uncertain is clearly connected to the self-contradiction of the A-bombed nation. On one hand, the Japanese government seeks to ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons, and yet, on the other, it openly declares its reliance on the U.S. nuclear deterrence under the U.S.-Japan alliance. This contradiction is creating a deep division between the government and the A-bombed cities, and no matter what the government says, its statements will not be persuasive as long as this division is left unresolved.

In contrast, Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki’s address at the Peace Memorial Ceremony was remarkable in his emphasis on questioning nuclear deterrence itself. His words gave voice to the minds of people in the A-bombed city.

A remark made by a student at a memorial service held at a school in Hiroshima on August 6 was also striking. According to the student, the criticism over Mr. Obama’s visit not bringing concrete steps for nuclear abolition actually cuts both ways. The student said, “We have to question ourselves seriously and sincerely as to what we have done so far and what we should do in the future.” I wholeheartedly agree with this assertion.

There is transience to the Obama phenomenon. As citizens of Hiroshima, we must think carefully about the messages we wish to convey to the world in the 72nd year and 73rd year since the atomic bombing of this city.

(Originally published on August 7, 2016)