On Friday, May 27th, President Obama stood at the site in Hiroshima, Japan, where nearly 150,000 lost their lives to the detonation of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and, three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped in Nagasaki, with another 140,000 lives lost. Those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were mainly civilians.
The President signed his name at the entrance to the Hiroshima Peace Center with these words, “We have known the agony of war. Let us know, find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”
The President was on a much anticipated visit to celebrate the friendship and the alliance between the United States and Japan. He had long wanted to visit Hiroshima and, with seven months left in office, he had the visit scheduled.
Though some had criticized President Obama for visiting the Hiroshima Peace Center, stating that such a visit would appear that the United States was apologizing to the Japanese for dropping the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, the President’s visit gave him the opportunity to discuss the extreme dangers inherent in the nuclear arms race as well as to honor those who had suffered from the atomic blast.
The President remarked that a world without nuclear weapons would bring a future “in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as ‘the dawn of atomic warfare’ but as the state of our own moral awakening.”
After President Obama signed the Hiroshima guest book, he laid a wreath, walking with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in front of the cenotaph, the curved, concrete memorial that pays tribute to those killed by the bombings. There is an eternal flame burning just beyond the memorial, as well as the skeletal remnants of the municipal building destroyed in the blast.
The President stated to the crowd, “Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”
The day’s ceremonies were dignified, solemn. How did President Obama gather the words to address the unthinkable - humankind’s ability to destroy itself - along with the base horror that was the playbook of World War II?
President Obama did instill the gathering with grace and honor, and did find the words that were critically important for the Japanese
to hear: the first time an American President acknowledged the suffering and offered respect to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-s—distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner.”
“Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.”
The President’s pilgrimage to Hiroshima was not an apology for the atomic blast seventy-one years ago, his remarks were on a future where the world resolves differences with diplomacy, and not war.
What is certain, the President stated, is that our morality, our perspectives, have not advanced sufficiently, or at all, to meet the challenge of nuclear weapons.
The nuclear weapons now available are far more powerful than the one employed by the United States seventy-one years ago, and, given the reckless remarks made by prominent world leaders over using some of these nuclear stockpiles, now is the time to challenge the acceptance of such weapons.
“The World War that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations.Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth.”
“And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.”
“How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.”
At the end of his speech, the President shook hands with
hibakusha, the Japanese term for survivors of the atomic blast, who were in attendance. One man, 79 year—old Shigeaki Mori, was eight years old in Hiroshima when the bomb hit. He was swept off his feet from the blast against the backdrop of a blinding white sky. Overwhelmed with emotion when the President greeted him, Mori found himself embraced by the President.
In a day marked by symbolism and grace, the picture of the President and Mr. Mori embracing was the best representation of the peaceful sentiments expressed between the two nations.
Published by Nancy Snyder