HIROSHIMA/NAGASAKI - The mayors of the two cities destroyed by atomic bombs in the final days of World War II hope U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on Friday will be a “new step” toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.
In separate interviews, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui described the first trip by a sitting U.S. leader to the city as “politically a very crucial phase,” while Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said he expects other world leaders to follow suit after Obama’s visit.
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki mayors have repeatedly asked the U.S. president — who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 after his landmark speech calling for a world without nuclear weapons — to visit their cities.
Matsui said the visit to Hiroshima by the leader of the only nation to have used nuclear weapons in war, accompanied by Shinzo Abe, the leader of the only nation to have been attacked by them, must influence how the world will evolve, one way or another.
From the perspective of the survivors, known as hibakusha, Matsui believes Obama’s visit will be an opportunity to amplify their voices through an “influential figure.”
“I would like to tell him, ‘Please take another step toward a world without nuclear weapons by taking in the wishes of hibakusha that no one else shall ever again suffer (as they have),’ ” said Matsui, whose mother survived the Aug. 6, 1945, bombing.
Obama will visit Hiroshima on Friday after attending the Group of Seven summit in Mie Prefecture.
He is expected to make brief remarks during the Hiroshima visit, words that Taue said will “go down in history.”
“People’s concern for the elimination of nuclear weapons will be passed on to future generations,” he said.
“To know what actually took place under the mushroom cloud will be a starting point” for global discussions toward a nuclear-free world, Taue added.
Although a single visit won’t instantly turn everything around, “it will be a big step,” he said.
Matsui, who had earlier said he would not seek an apology from Obama, said the visit was happening precisely because he had repeatedly suggested making “future-oriented” efforts without demanding an apology.
Taue also said he has no intention of seeking an apology and expects Obama to share the wishes of the hibakusha and deliver a message of hope for future generations.
The pair are hoping that Obama will take time to meet with hibakusha and listen to their stories during his short stay. Matsui said such a meeting would “deliver a stronger message to the world than any written words.”
Taue said direct talks with hibakusha would vividly convey the wishes of the A-bombed cities to the world.
Although Obama is not scheduled to visit Nagasaki, Taue said he has not given up hope that he will make the trek sometime in the future.
The number of people killed directly and indirectly by the effects of the bombs by the end of 1945 is estimated at 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, according to the cities.