Mixed feelings in Japan ahead of Obama’s visit to Hiroshima

Haruko Moritaki finds it hard to accept the welcoming mood in Hiroshima since US President Barack Obama declared that he would be paying the city a historic visit.

“Even before the US announcement, the Japanese government stressed the president would not need to apologize for the bombing,” Moritaki said, rolling her eyes.

Moritaki is leader of the Hiroshima Alliance Nuclear Weapons Abolition, and the daughter of a victim of the bombing.

Her group is asking Obama to “offer a sincere apology to the departed victims, and to those who managed to survive.”

In the 71 years since the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city at the end of World War II, incinerating tens of thousands instantly, it has never been visited by a sitting US president.

But Obama's groundbreaking trip does not mean those affected by Hiroshima can expect an apology, as the White House has been keen to stress, backed up by the Japanese authorities.

Obama himself told broadcaster NHK on Monday that he will not be making an apology. "Every leader makes very difficult decisions, particularly during wartime," he said.

The president “will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II,” US deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a blog post earlier this month.

In any case, there has not been any pressure from Japanese officials for such a move.

“I sincerely welcome the president's bold decision [to visit] based on reason and conscience,” Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said, without mentioning an apology.

“I personally do not want to make that [an apology] an issue,” Japanese Ambassador to the US Kenichiro Sasae said in Washington Friday.

Obama’s visit, accompanied by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will be a “good opportunity” for the two countries to enhance their cooperation to realize a world without nuclear weapons, the ambassador said.

Moritaki sees cowardice in such diplomatic reactions.

“Mr Matsui should have spoken for those who lost their lives [in the bombing] as well as survivors,” she said.

The first use of nuclear weapons against humans annihilated the western Japanese city on August 6, 1945. Three days later, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. A total of 210,000 people had died because of the attacks by the end of that year.

Even long after the war, many survivors suffered chronic ailments such as cancer caused by exposure to radiation.

The US has always maintained that the decision by President Harry Truman to drop the bomb brought the war to an end and saved countless lives by forcing Nazi ally Japan to surrender quickly, which it did just days after the Nagasaki bombing.

Moritaki said Japanese leaders were concerned that if Obama apologized, it would rekindle the debate over Japan’s own actions in the war.

Abe has been criticized for whitewashing the country’s wartime atrocities, including the use of sex slaves from Korea and China.

“I was stunned to learn Mr Abe will accompany President Obama to Hiroshima though he lacks an understanding of history. He is not qualified to tell the president about the background of the atomic bombing,” said Shozo Muneto, a survivor and former pastor at the United Church of Christ in the city.

Shoso Kawamoto, a survivor who lost his parents and four siblings in the bombing, is more cynical about Obama's motives.

Approaching the final months of his eight-year presidency, Obama wants to "cap his career, doesn’t he?” Kawamoto said.

The broader anti-nuclear movement in Japan also expresses disappointment in the US leader.

“A president of the country that dropped the atomic bombs should have come earlier,” said Hiroshi Shimizu, secretary general of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations.

There were high expectations after Obama outlined his vision of a nuclear-free world in a speech in Prague in 2009, Shimizu said. “But we have not seen any progress ever since.”

Top Obama advisor on Asia Daniel Kritenbrink insists Obama has a “personal commitment to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."

But Moritaki is sceptical. She quotes her late father Ichiro, who was well known as one of the pioneers of the anti-nuclear movement. He used to say that Hiroshima and Nagasaki taught us that “humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist indefinitely,” she said.

As for the apology, she will keep fighting.

“We believe that such an apology is an indispensable step on the journey to a nuclear-free world,” Moritaki said. “How can we realize a nuclear-free world without rejecting the root from which nuclear weapons emerged?”

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25

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