Comment: Letters to Barack Obama

by Keisuke Yoshihara, Economics Editor-in-Chief

On the refrigerator in our office is a magnet that features a photo of Barack Obama, the former president of the United States. It says in large letters, “MISSING,” and in smaller letters, “Have you seen this man? If found, please send him back to the White House.” This magnet was a souvenir brought back from the United States this month by one of our reporters on assignment.

When Mr. Obama was first elected president in November 2008, I was the chief editor of Peace Seeds, a newspaper produced by Hiroshima teens. The two-page newspaper, printed on the front and back of a single sheet, featured news on peace and was inserted into the Chugoku Shimbun on a regular basis. We quickly launched a letter-writing campaign to call on Mr. Obama to visit Hiroshima.

We appealed to A-bomb survivors and children to write letters to Mr. Obama. Many volunteers, including students at Hawaii’s Punahou School, where Mr. Obama was once a student, translated those letters into English. We sent 335 letters to the White House the following summer.

His visit to Hiroshima was finally realized in May 2016. This was seven years after we initiated our campaign. Of course, it wasn’t only due to this campaign that he chose to come to Hiroshima. But I believe that these messages, and many more like them, helped convey the wish that Mr. Obama, as the sitting president of the country that dropped the atomic bomb and as the leader of a nuclear superpower, would come to Hiroshima to feel, first-hand, the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of that decision.

Seventeen months have passed since his visit to the city. I wonder where Mr. Obama is and what he is doing now. It is hard to tell if what he experienced in Hiroshima has helped contribute to any action, on his part, to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Last Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an international NGO. As a recipient of the same prize, what sort of moral responsibility did Mr. Obama feel when he heard this news?

Mr. Obama, though you spent only 52 minutes in Hiroshima, at Peace Memorial Park, let me say to you now that when it comes to aiding the nuclear abolition movement: Yes, you can.

(Originally published on October 12, 2017)