WASHINGTON – An 84-year-old atomic bomb survivor called on U.S. President Barack Obama to make further efforts to abolish nuclear weapons in a letter she handed to a close aide of the president during a meeting Monday in Washington.
“I wrote, ‘We must act for the future of children’ at the top of the letter,” Setsuko Thurlow told reporters after meeting with Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
Thurlow, who moved to Canada after marrying a Canadian, was 13 when the U.S. atomic bomb hit Hiroshima in the final stages of World War II. An anti-nuclear activist, she said she also expressed her opinions about U.S. nuclear policies in the letter.
Thurlow and Rhodes met after an event organized by a Washington-based think tank, the Arms Control Association, where they gave keynote speeches. The think tank promotes public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.
Thurlow told reporters that she was overwhelmed when she heard Obama mention the death toll from the war in his May 27 speech at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, as it reminded her of her 4-year-old nephew who was burned to death in the bombing of the city on Aug. 6, 1945.
Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.
Rhodes, who wrote Obama’s speech and accompanied the president on his trip, said in his keynote speech that he had been greatly impressed by the “huge and friendly crowds” welcoming the president’s motorcade on the way to the park near ground zero.
Rhodes said he saw in the crowds “a small Japanese boy who was smiling and holding a sign in English that said ‘Welcome to Hiroshima.’ “
“When you see that, of course, you think of what would have happened to him standing there nearly 71 years ago,” Rhodes said, adding that he keenly felt the importance of the efforts being made to ensure such a tragedy is never repeated.
During their meeting, Rhodes told Thurlow that the trip to Hiroshima had been the most touching experience of their lives for both Obama and himself.
For her part, Thurlow said she told Rhodes that she wished Obama had talked more clearly about the necessity of abolishing all nuclear weapons in his speech, based on what he had actually seen during his visit to Hiroshima.
Many phrases in Obama’s speech were “philosophical and anthropological,” she said, adding she wanted to hear him speak in easy-to-understand language that would have heartened atomic-bomb survivors.
The two also talked about the possibility of Obama revisiting the city after his term ends in January, Thurlow said.