HIROSHIMA – As the foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations met in Hiroshima, speculation was growing that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit the city when he comes to Japan next month for the G-7 leaders’ summit in Mie Prefecture.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s presence at the Hiroshima meeting was seen as one way to test whether a first-ever U.S. presidential visit to Hiroshima would be a good idea or one whose time has yet to come.
For some Americans visiting the city and for Hiroshima natives, there was support for a presidential visit, a feeling Obama would not have to offer any sort of an apology, and hope that it would draw attention to the horrors of nuclear war and help put the past to rest.
“I think it’s a good idea if he comes. If you’re here, it’s very hard to look at because you see the lives that were affected,” Karianne Barlow, an American who lives in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, said Sunday.
“It’s very controversial as to whether dropping the atomic bomb was helpful or not. From my political standpoint, it was a good thing. So, I guess I’d be a little bothered if he apologized, although just laying a wreath of flowers would be very good,” she said.
Wayne Leavitt, who was visiting from the U.S., said seeing Hiroshima was very devastating and he tried to emotionally prepare before coming.
“I remember learning a little bit about the bombing as an elementary school student. It’s rough, now that I’m a father and think about my daughter. It certainly strengthens my resolve against war,” he said.
“What can you say? It was something that was done so long ago. There are those who say it was necessary. But it would be wonderful if Obama could express, I hope, the future goal of total nuclear disarmament. It would also be relevant if he said something about U.S. drone strikes. We’re still bombing other people,” he added.
Two decades ago, a presidential visit would have been difficult due to opposition in the U.S., especially among veterans groups. But Leavitt feels a visit now would be less uncomfortable for most Americans, although he said a good part of the American population would not like to hear an apology.
“But the city of Hiroshima and the people of Japan deserve at least the president coming and laying a wreath in Peace Park,” he said.
“If Obama does visit Hiroshima, I really want him to visit the Peace Memorial Museum,” said Yusuke Ono, a Hiroshima resident. “I don’t think a visit should be about ‘America’ or ‘Japan,’ but learning about what the atomic bomb took away. I also want Obama to think about the nuclear weapons America has now, what it means, and then once again hear what he has to say.
“I don’t think anyone in Hiroshima expects Obama to apologize. The past is the past. Both sides did good things and bad things. It’s about what we should do now and where we should go from here,” Ono said.
“You can’t change the past, but you can change the future,” added his friend, Yuki Chono.