Editorial: Marking anniversary of Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, next step for nuclear abolition must now be taken

Many people surely felt Barack Obama’s conviction as president of the United States, the nuclear superpower, when they heard him speak in Hiroshima with the A-bomb Dome as his backdrop. In his speech last May 27, he declared: “Still every act of aggression between nations; every act of terror and corruption and cruelty and oppression that we see around the world shows our work is never done. We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations -- and the alliances that we’ve formed -- must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear, and pursue a world without them.”

Today marks the first anniversary of Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, the first sitting president of the United States to come to this city.

It was certainly a historic visit, finally realized some 70 years after the war ended. However, it appears we are moving even further away from a path that would lead to the abolition of nuclear arms, because U.S. nuclear policy has changed alarmingly since the inauguration of President Trump, who seeks to expand U.S. military might. We must make the most of this anniversary of Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, using it as an opportunity for the people of the A-bombed city, who know the inhumanity of nuclear weapons all too well, to make a strong appeal to the world.

For a very long time, the people of Hiroshima, and the A-bomb survivors in particular, felt the urgent desire for the president of the United States to visit this city. This was because they wanted the president to understand, first-hand, the suffering wrought by the atomic bombing and urge that nuclear weapons be abandoned.

But it cannot really be said that sufficient time was allocated for Mr. Obama to gain a full understanding of the true consequences of the atomic bombing. Still, he did stand in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, his head bowed and eyes closed in reflection, and he did exchange words with representatives of the A-bomb survivors, offering his embrace. So we want to believe that the wishes of the people of the A-bombed city were conveyed to some degree.

We say “to some degree” because there were also many calls for Mr. Obama to apologize for the atomic bombing during his visit. Thinking of the despair of the victims, who lost their lives in an instant, and those who still suffer from the aftereffects of their exposure to the bomb’s radiation, isn’t it only natural that we question U.S. responsibility for having dropped that bomb?

However, the dramatically staged visit became glorified as a symbol of reconciliation between Japan and the United States. As a consequence, it was difficult to raise questions or make critical comments at that time.

Meanwhile, worldwide media coverage of the visit has had a powerful impact. Following Mr. Obama’s visit, when he donated paper cranes that he had folded to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a record-high 1.74 million people visited the museum in the last fiscal year with the number of visitors from abroad also growing strongly. It can be said that Mr. Obama’s visit has become the first opportunity for people to hear about nuclear weapons not from the view of military might but from the perspective of human tragedy.

But our satisfaction is insufficient because the state of affairs involving nuclear weapons has not improved at all over the past 12 months.

Mr. Obama advocated “a world without nuclear weapons” and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his pronouncements, but he was unable to advance actual reductions in nuclear arsenals. While the United States and other nuclear powers face a challenging world, and thus cling to the long-held idea of nuclear deterrence, Mr. Obama is still unable to evade criticism over the contradiction between his words and his actions. After taking over from Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump has put more pressure on North Korea, which now holds a nuclear arsenal of its own and persists in provocative actions.

Even though negotiations began at the United Nations in March to establish a treaty that would outlaw nuclear weapons, the nuclear weapon states, including the United States, Russia, and their allies, which still hold fast to the nuclear umbrella, refused to take part in these talks. Yesterday, the Japanese government confirmed that it would not participate in the second round of talks, either, which will begin in June. In offering a rationale for this decision, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said, “Japan’s participation in the talks would deepen the divide between the nuclear nations and the non-nuclear nations.” His comment, though, suggests consideration for the U.S. government and its stance.

Our experience of Mr. Obama has shown us the hard reality of how arduous the journey to achieving nuclear abolition really is, in the arena of international politics. Now that he is no longer president, we nevertheless hope that he will continue to make efforts, through private diplomacy or other means, to advance the cause of a nuclear-free world.

We also need to look back, once more, on his visit to this city and affirm its impact that gripped us a year ago.

To move forward with the aim of nuclear abolition, we must pursue concrete steps that can sway the leaders of the nuclear nations and their allies. Our next step for a better future, such as making efforts to support the creation of a treaty to outlaw nuclear arms, must now be taken.

(Originally published on May 27, 2017)