NEW YORK – The overriding message that U.S. President Barack Obama conveyed in his historic speech at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima is that nuclear weapons should never again be used, an American expert on Japanese history said.
“He (Obama) said memory must never fade, but not because we must remember the suffering, but because we must prevent it now. That is the ‘never again’ message,” said Carol Gluck, a Columbia University professor of Japanese history.
“The memory of Hiroshima is in our actions now to prevent that from happening again and that is why it is a charge to the people,” she said on Friday.
Gluck is among academics and experts who were anticipating the visit — the first by a sitting U.S. president — 71 years after the end of World War II. Obama was in Japan for the Group of Seven summit of industrialized nations.
At the park, Obama met with atomic bomb survivors and exchanged greetings with some of them.
“The lesson of Hiroshima is the beginning not of nuclear war, but of our moral awakening,” Gluck said.
Describing the 17-minute speech as an inspirational one, rather than a policy speech, she likened Obama’s approach to one used by the late peace activist Martin Luther King, Jr.
“He talked about human suffering, he didn’t just talk about destruction,” Gluck said. “It was all about people and they were people like us, he said, they were ordinary people who don’t want war … He recognized their suffering.”
Gluck also noted how the president drew attention to the personal tragedies endured by scores of men, women and children, as well as how Korean laborers and American prisoners of war died when the bomb was dropped.
He “did not gloss over” the suffering of the hibakusha, who were mentioned twice in his speech, she said, noting that he highlighted two of their stories.
One woman, Obama said, forgave the pilot who dropped the bomb over her city, and a man sought out the families of the American POWs who died after the blast.
She also acknowledged the impact of the hug Obama gave to an elderly survivor.
“This was a real gesture, it was an American gesture,” she explained. “That was important, very important for so many Japanese.”
Gluck said she expected most Americans and Japanese to have a positive view of the speech but anticipated critics.
Among them will be those who believe that an apology was necessary and those who believe the anti-nuclear message was not strong enough.
While Obama did not refer to the commonly held American view that the United States dropped the bomb to expedite the end the war, Gluck said he put the “bomb in a moral context.”
Gluck believes that an apology by the United States for Hiroshima “is not as important” as the fact that peoples’ views about nuclear weapons have been changing over the years.
“One thing more and more people think is that we shouldn’t conduct nuclear war and so my guess is that by 50 years those numbers will grow and that is going to be the lesson of Hiroshima,” she explained.
Hiroshima was obliterated by the world’s first atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, in the closing days of the war. Nagasaki was destroyed by the second one three days later.
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