Barack Obama would like to go where no sitting U.S. president has gone before: to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s a real statement of Obama’s interest in eliminating nuclear weapons.
In an interview with Japan’s NHK public broadcasting network in advance of a trip to the Asian country this week, Obama said, “The memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are etched in the minds of the world and I would be honored to have the opportunity to visit those cities at some point during my presidency.” After Tuesday’s broadcast, the mayors of the two atomic-bombed cities quickly welcomed the statement as a very positive sign.
In the United States, Associated Press reported the statement in terms of the possible political controversy at home. Some conservatives would try to make the president look like he was apologizing for the atomic bombings at the end of World War II and attempt to dismiss his pursuit of a nuclear weapons-free world as naïve.
Although an apology would be justified (as with so many actions on all sides of the war), it’s not going to happen when some 60 percent of Americans – especially those who are white and older – believe the bombings were justified. But thinking that something may have been justified in the context of the world’s worst war hardly eliminates the element of human sympathy most Americans can feel and their rational concern about nuclear dangers.
In any visit, Obama’s points would be to promote nuclear weapons nonproliferation, to mourn the tragic toll of hundreds of thousands of victims and to express the world’s hope that the August 1945 bombings remain the only atomic attacks. Across the political spectrum, most Americans would be in accord with the president. Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former secretaries of state in Republican administrations, are active in promoting the complete abolition of nuclear weapons as a matter of national security.
Obama made no promises. But his interview will raise hopes even higher in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where people young and old had launched petitions asking the president to visit. As leaders of the international Mayors for Peace (Seattle’s outgoing leader, Greg Nickels, is a member), Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba and Nagasaki’s Tomihisa Taue have directed a great deal of attention to making progress on nuclear abolition when the United Nations holds a major review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty next May. As Obama tries to contain and reduce nuclear dangers, a visit to Hiroshima or Nagasaki would be a powerful symbolic card to play.
Joe Copeland, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial writer, was a visiting researcher at Hiroshima City University’s Hiroshima Peace Institute earlier this year as a Fulbright Scholar. Note: This item is cross-posted at former P-I foreign editor Larry Johnson’s new blog, Looking for Trouble.