A-bomb victims, locals hope Obama trip spurs nuke-free crusade

HIROSHIMA — With U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit Friday to Hiroshima, atomic-bomb survivors, local residents and antinuclear activists ultimately have one goal: progress in global efforts toward a nuclear weapon-free world.

Hours before Obama visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Sunao Tsuboi, a 91-year-old survivor of the U.S. atomic bombing, shared his experience of being exposed to radiation with about 40 students on a school trip to the city attacked with a nuclear weapon nearly 71 years ago.

Tsuboi, one of the chairpersons of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, known as Hidankyo, was among the atomic-bomb survivors attending a ceremony where Obama laid a wreath at a cenotaph in the Peace Memorial Park near ground zero.

Prior to meeting Obama, Tsuboi told reporters, “I want to tell him that I welcome and am thankful for his visit, and that I do not hold a grudge.”

Nobuko Morikawa, 60, whose mother witnessed the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, said neither she nor her mother seek an apology and are more keen to move beyond the past.

“Mr. Obama is the sitting U.S. president and with influence in the world, which makes his message toward a nuclear-free world important,” said Morikawa, who occasionally shares stories about the atomic bombing with foreign visitors to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the park.

“While I was disappointed after Mr. Obama’s Prague speech, I believe his visit to Hiroshima would make him aware of the horrors of using nuclear weapons and the pain of atomic-bomb survivors,” Morikawa said, referring to Obama’s landmark 2009 address, which was welcomed by atomic-bomb survivors and raised their hopes for progress in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation efforts.

Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize later that year, but global efforts toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons remain stalled. Few atomic-bomb survivors remain alive, fueling concern the loss of eyewitness accounts could dim the memory of the devastation wrought by the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where around 210,000 people died by the end of 1945 due to the blasts.

Sharing Morikawa’s sentiment that a U.S. apology is not paramount, Katsushi Uemoto, a 74-year-old resident of Hiroshima, said, “It is enough that President Obama comes here and sees for himself what happened” and that he is not seeking an apology.

For Terumi Tanaka, a survivor of the subsequent U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki three days later, his idea of an apology is not broad but more of a personal one to “people who died and their bereaved relatives, and those who lost their children and other family members.”

But Tanaka, 84, insisted in a recent news conference that he and other survivors “strongly feel that (this talk about apology) should not get in the way of efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.”

Having a grandfather who survived the bombing and growing up in Hiroshima, where peace education is deeply rooted, Miyu Hijiri, 22, said she is keen not to be stuck in the debate about apology.

“It is best for us all to think about what to do to avoid the recurrence of war and move toward that same direction,” Hijiri said, adding that she is glad to hear that Obama will “honor all those who were lost in World War II” which includes those who died in air raids and in other ways.

While a 70-year-old resident said he hopes Obama will be inspired to make a decision “as a politician and while he is U.S. president” to spearhead efforts toward nuclear disarmament, Akinori Shimomura, a 64-year-old resident, has a more critical and pessimistic take on Obama’s visit.

“It is a political performance,” Shimomura said, noting that the visit showcases the “double standards” of the United States in using nuclear deterrence as a security strategy while trying to take steps toward nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. PNA/Kyodo/northboundasia.com