Nuclear abolition remains unfulfilled: Two years have passed since Obama’s visit to Hiroshima

by Yumi Kanazaki and Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writers

On May 27, the A-bombed city of Hiroshima will mark the second anniversary of Barack Obama’s visit to the city as the first sitting president of the United States. When he delivered a speech in Hiroshima, Mr. Obama said, “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.” Since then, Hiroshima has certainly drawn stronger interest from people around the world. But the wish of the A-bomb survivors, for nuclear weapons to be abolished, remains unfulfilled. In particular, current U.S. nuclear policy seems to have moved in the opposite direction since Donald Trump took office as president. In this article, the Chugoku Shimbun looks back on the developments that have taken place over the past two years.

A-bombed city draws attention from around the world

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum still displays a pink paper crane that Mr. Obama handed to a local junior high school student when he visited the museum, and there has been a continuous line of visitors interested in seeing the paper crane that he made. Initially, it was intended to be on display from June to August in 2016. But the exhibit has been extended, again and again, because the crane has been met with such a positive response. A staff member of the museum said, “We believe that Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima has heightened people’s awareness of the city over the past two years and boosted the number of visitors to the museum.”

The number of visitors to the museum in fiscal year 2017 was 1,680,923, which was the second highest figure since the museum first opened. Of this total, more than 390,000 international visitors came to the museum, which was a record-high for the fifth consecutive year. The number of VIPs visiting Hiroshima was high, too, at 79. With this trend serving as a springboard, the City of Hiroshima and Hiroshima Prefecture have asked Pope Francis to pay a visit to the A-bombed city with the idea of advancing momentum for the abolition of nuclear arms.

However, since Mr. Obama’s visit to the city, other heads of nuclear-armed nations have yet to visit Hiroshima. After the A-bomb survivors listened to Mr. Obama speak in Hiroshima, saying that the nuclear powers must have the courage to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, they have called for Mr. Obama’s successor, Mr. Trump, as well as the leaders of other nuclear weapon states, to come to Hiroshima and see the devastating reality wrought by the atomic bombing first-hand, and take action for nuclear abolition. But no “Obama effect” has been seen in this regard.

Toshiko Tanaka, 79, an A-bomb survivor who lives in Higashi Ward, said strongly, “The people of Hiroshima, encouraged by Mr. Obama’s visit, should continue to be persistent in calling for the world’s leaders to come to this city so Mr. Trump and the others can understand how horrific the atomic bombing was.” Last year Ms. Tanaka visited the United Nations headquarters, in New York, and appealed for the passage of the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

Though the Obama administration did not favor the treaty, either, she hopes that more leaders of the nuclear nations, which have frowned on the treaty, will visit Hiroshima to move forward, a step closer, to the ratification of the treaty and the elimination of nuclear arms.

Until last fall, the City of Hiroshima twice made a written request to Mr. Trump, asking that he visit the A-bombed city. But as the head of the nuclear superpower, he has shown an attitude toward nuclear policy that runs counter to the Obama administration, which endorsed the idea of nuclear abolition, and there has been no indication yet that Mr. Trump is interested in paying a visit to the A-bombed city. At the same time, the citizens of Hiroshima have not been as active in appealing for Mr. Trump’s visit, compared to the frequent requests made to Mr. Obama by A-bomb survivors groups and others in Hiroshima during his presidency, which were fueled by Mr. Obama’s call for a world without nuclear weapons.

Some A-bomb survivors and antinuclear groups have stressed the importance of discussing our stance toward such visits. This point has been raised because of their doubts over the fact that both the city and the prefecture released statements, prior to Mr. Obama’s visit, saying that an apology from Mr. Obama for the U.S. A-bomb attack would not be pursued, as well as the fact that Mr. Obama had little chance to gain a deeper understanding of the reality of the atomic bombing because he spent only 10 minutes looking at exhibits in the museum. With regard to the growing number of international visitors to the city, the challenge involves how to effectively convey to them Hiroshima’s antinuclear message.

Erika Abiko, 39, the owner of “Hachidori-sha” (the Hummingbird House Café), located in Naka Ward, said, “I want to create a space where citizens can come together and reflect on Mr. Obama’s visit, and think about how we can take advantage of his visit moving forward to help advance the abolition of nuclear weapons by working together.” Her café has held such events as times to listen to the accounts of A-bomb survivors. In connection with the upcoming second anniversary of Mr. Obama’s visit on May 27, the café will hold an event on May 25 in which participants will ponder the meaning of the visit to the city by Mr. Obama.

Trump administration changes policy to pursue more “usable” nuclear weapons

The Obama administration initially sought not to develop any new nuclear arms while shrinking the role of these weapons, but abandoned this effort along the way. The Trump administration, though, is moving toward the idea of developing smaller-sized nuclear arms in order to lessen the hesitance to use them. As he showed in his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, he doesn’t seem inclined toward international cooperation when it comes to nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation issues. When comparing the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) of the two administrations, which sets down the U.S. government’s intentions with regard to nuclear policy, it is apparent that the Trump administration is taking a regressive and disruptive approach.

The NPR released by the Trump administration in February consists of 75 pages in total. In it, the downsizing of nuclear weapons is described, with the aim of lowering the explosive force of some of the warheads on Trident missiles, a nuclear missile carried by enormous nuclear submarines, along with the long-term goal of developing a nuclear cruise missile.

With respect to the nuclear cruise missile, the Obama administration decided to retire the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile from service in 2010. At the time, the Japanese government expressed concern that this move would weaken the nuclear umbrella shielding Japan, but the U.S. government persuaded it to accept the decision. Now, though, the United States is virtually declaring that this missile will be revived in a different form.

The motive in this case is countering Russia, which is proceeding strongly with efforts to fortify its nuclear arsenal. But the problem is not limited to the risk of rising tensions between two nations seeking to develop “usable” nuclear weapons. Japan is affected by these U.S. plans, too.

Hiromichi Umebayashi, a visiting professor at the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University, said, “In the long run, there is again the possibility that nuclear weapons could be brought into Japan, which would violate Japan’s three non-nuclear principles. This potential problem could become a reality.” Mr. Umebayashi stressed that Japan should take advantage of current conditions, where talks to denuclearize North Korea are being sought between the United States and North Korea, by enshrining the three non-nuclear principles into law and pursuing the denuclearization of the entire Northeast Asia region.

The contents of the new U.S. NPR have begun to take form. For example, a plan was announced on May 10 to convert a nuclear fuel facility, which is now under construction in South Carolina to reuse the nuclear substances extracted from the dismantled nuclear warheads, to a manufacturing plant for “plutonium pits,” which are placed in the core of nuclear warheads. This move is based on the intentions of the NPR, which states that the production capacity for plutonium pits will be increased to 80 plutonium pits per year at least by the year 2030.

Under the Bush administration, the United States tried to develop the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), in effect a new type of nuclear weapon, in 2004. According to the development plan for the RRW, it was proposed that the production plant located in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atomic bomb was once developed, would be reinforced. This plan, though, was partly terminated under the Obama administration. Similar attempts were made at times in the past, but now, the U.S. government has decided to also establish such a plant in South Carolina.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico, an antinuclear group in New Mexico, released a press release which stated: “This decision is in large part a political decision, designed to keep the congressional delegations of both New Mexico and South Carolina happy. We think the American public will reject new-design nuclear weapons, which is what this expanded pit production is really all about.”

Last year the nuclear weapons ban treaty was adopted at the United Nations and this has fueled hopes for nuclear abolition. Yet the nuclear superpower acts as if this is a development that took place on some other planet. Mitsuru Kurosawa, a professor at Osaka Jogakuin University who specializes in nuclear disarmament, stressed that it may not be easy but it remains vital for the people of the A-bombed cities to closely watch for any subtle moves being made that could lead to the expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Japanese government calls for nuclear abolition while seeking stronger nuclear deterrence

How much has the wish for nuclear abolition from the people of the A-bombed cities been conveyed to the United States and the rest of the world in the wake of Mr. Obama’s visit two years ago? Looking closely at current conditions, a variety of issues can be seen.

In February, the month that Trump administration announced the new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), Taro Kono, Japan’s foreign minister, made a comment which expressed appreciation for the contents of the NPR, a remark that generated anger among A-bomb survivors.

There was reportedly a response from the U.S. Democratic Party, the ruling party under the Obama administration, which questioned why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had not criticized Mr. Kono’s comment in support of the new NPR, despite the fact that Mr. Abe had said that he would help create a world without nuclear weapons while standing in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims with Mr. Obama. Gregory Kulacki, an expert in nuclear issues, revealed this development at the blog of the Union of Concern Scientists (UCS), the group of experts to which Mr. Kulacki belongs.

The scene two years ago where Mr. Obama and Mr. Abe stood side by side in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima impressed the world with Japan’s image as the A-bombed nation desiring a world free of nuclear arms. But in our interview with Mr. Kulacki, he pointed out that no other nation but Japan holds two very different perspectives on this issue, and that the Japanese government had been advocating for nuclear abolition on the surface while strongly appealing to the U.S. Defense Department, behind the scenes, to strengthen its nuclear deterrence capability. He added that those who only saw the image of Mr. Abe in Hiroshima were not aware of the fact that the real intent of the Japanese government and public opinion in the A-bombed cities are completely incompatible in this regard.

Yuki Miyamoto, a Hiroshima native who is now an associate professor at DePaul University in Chicago, carefully monitored the actions of the Obama administration during its eight years in power. In 2007, when Mr. Obama was still a senator, he happened to see preparations taking place for an A-bomb exhibition at Ms. Miyamoto’s university when he was on his way to delivering a speech. In that speech Mr. Obama spoke for the first time about the idea of a world without nuclear weapons.

Ms. Miyamoto feels strongly that xenophobic behavior has been on the rise around her since Mr. Trump took office, and that such conditions are unfavorable for advancing people’s understanding of the damage and suffering caused by the atomic bombings. She added, “No matter the circumstances, as citizens, we can only continue to unite in our efforts and stay persistent in conveying the message of nuclear abolition through events like A-bomb exhibitions.”

What Obama did during his visit to Hiroshima

On May 27, 2016, after attending the G7 Ise-Shima Summit, Mr. Obama, then the U.S. president, came to Hiroshima via the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, and visited the Peace Memorial Park. At the Peace Memorial Museum, he looked at some A-bombed artifacts and paper cranes folded by Sadako Sasaki, a girl who died of A-bomb-induced leukemia ten years after experiencing the atomic bombing, and handed some paper cranes he had brought with him to an elementary school student and a junior high school student who were invited to the museum for that occasion.

Accompanied by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr. Obama offered a wreath of flowers to the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, and delivered a speech for 17 minutes in front of the cenotaph. He stated at the time, “Someday the voices of the Hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of August 6, 1945 must never fade.” He also said that the nations which hold nuclear stockpiles must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.

However, he made no comments regarding whether or not the atomic bombings were justifiable decisions, and he made no apologies for these actions. After his speech, he spoke briefly with two A-bomb survivors, Sunao Tsuboi, a co-chairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), and Shigeaki Mori, a local historian. He also gazed at the A-bomb Dome from across the river. He was in the park for a total of 52 minutes.

Shigeaki Mori, who met Mr. Obama in person, now travels to U.S.

Shigeaki Mori, 81, an A-bomb survivor and resident of Nishi Ward, became a familiar face worldwide after being photographed in an embrace with Mr. Obama at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Prior to this embrace, Mr. Obama had given a speech in the park and touched on the presence of American soldiers who were captured as prisoners of war (POWs) then lost their lives in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Mr. Mori spent many years investigating the fate of these American soldiers in order to identify them and the whereabouts of family members. Despite his advancing age, he has continued to mourn the deaths of these soldiers and engage in interactions with family members. From May 22, he plans to visit the United States with his wife, Kayoko, 74.

Over the years, Mr. Mori has spent a considerable amount of his own money on international telephone calls and postage to further his investigation. His efforts have also been supported by friends who are familiar with life in the United States. When he began to experience back troubles, it became difficult for him to take the long journey to the United States on his own. Though he had originally planned to make the trip several months after Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, he gave up this idea after taking into account the condition of Kayoko’s health. But he made up his mind that this time he would go, considering it would likely be the last chance in his life.

The trip was realized after he received an invitation from a group of Americans that included Barry Frechette, a film director who made a documentary film that featured Mr. Mori and his longtime efforts. Though the American victims of the atomic bombing had drawn little interest from the people of Hiroshima, Mr. Mori kept up his persistence to learn what had happened to them, these men who had been considered enemies. Mr. Frechette’s film, titled “Paper Lanterns,” was completed prior to Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and has since been screened in many locations in Japan and in the United States.

During Mr. Mori’s stay in the United States, he will take part in screenings of the film in San Francisco and Boston and talk about his experience of the atomic bombing. On May 28, he will participate in a memorial event with military veterans and family members of the American POWs who died in the atomic bombing. At this event, Kayoko, who is a vocalist and also an A-bomb survivor, will sing a song. A visit by the couple to the United Nations headquarters in New York is also being arranged.

Funding for their travel expenses has been raised by Mr. Frechette and others through the crowdfunding site “GoFundMe.” When the news of this trip was reported by the media in February, substantial donations were made from people in Japan, too, and about 80% of the $20,000 goal (about 2.2 million yen) was ultimately raised. While the appeal for donations has continued, Mr. Frechette has pledged to cover any shortfall in funds. Mr. Mori said, “I’m grateful for people’s goodwill and the fact that they don’t want the enthusiasm for our trip to quickly pass, that they hope this can lead to further exchanges between Japan and the United States.”

Commenting on the two years that have passed since he met Mr. Obama, Mr. Mori also expressed a sense of concern about dangerous conditions in the world. “While Mr. Obama’s visit has made Americans more interested in Hiroshima,” he said, “I can’t say that the true conditions of the damage done by the atomic bombing have likewise become more familiar to them.” Ahead of his departure, he added, “The atomic bombing has caused lifelong aftereffects, including leukemia and cancer, and the survivors have continued to suffer. I want to talk about the true brutality of the atomic bomb during my visit.”

(Originally published on May 21, 2018)