Obama remarks raise both hopes and doubts among A-bomb survivors

by Keisuke Yoshihara, Staff Writer

Speaking after the Japan-U.S. summit, U.S. President Barack Obama touched on a possible visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but said he had no immediate plans for such a visit. He also reaffirmed his intention to seek the abolition of nuclear weapons, yet added that the goal would likely not be reached in his lifetime. In response to Mr. Obama's comments, A-bomb survivors from Hiroshima expressed mixed feelings.

Mieko Okada, 72, a peace volunteer working at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, welcomed the president's remarks, saying, "The fact that the leaders of the United States and Japan have held a joint press conference on the issue of nuclear abolition is a historic first. I see positive signs for the realization of this aim." As to a question about the atomic bombings that Mr. Obama left unanswered, she suspected that a deep-seated belief among the American public that the bombings were justified makes it difficult for the president to candidly express his personal opinion.

Sunao Tsuboi, 84, chairman of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, emphasized that "What should be noted is that the president has declared his determination to pursue a world without nuclear weapons." But he added: "At the same time, I would like to see him vow, before the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, and at the earliest possible time, that the United States will never use nuclear weapons again."

On the other hand, Kazushi Kaneko, 84, chairman of the other Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, wondered about the president's earnestness for abolishing nuclear weapons when he also claimed the need to maintain nuclear deterrence. "Until his entire being absorbs the cruelty of nuclear weapons," Mr. Kaneko said, "the president will never understand the necessity of abolition. We have no other choice but to press on to advance the momentum for abolition without becoming dependent upon Mr. Obama."

Akihiro Takahashi, 78, a former director of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, also alluded to future moves. "I regret that the two leaders didn't talk at length about nuclear abolition," said Mr. Takahashi. "Their time was limited, I assume. Most important now is the action the United States and Japan will take after having pledged cooperation on this occasion."

(Originally published on November 14, 2009)