NAGASAKI – As Japan marked the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this month, the mayors of the two cities urged world leaders to follow in the footsteps of U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Hiroshima in May, and act to rid the world of nuclear arms.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has echoed the mayors’ calls, but has stopped short of putting forward concrete steps for abolishing nuclear weapons, attracting criticism from atomic bomb survivors and peace activists.
This is not the first time that Hiroshima and Nagasaki have called on leaders to visit and listen to the accounts of survivors, but the calls this year were stronger than ever as the cities believe such visits can be used as a springboard to realize their goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
Obama, who became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima on May 27, used his speech there to urge nuclear powers to have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a nuclear-free world.
In his speech during the city’s commemorative ceremony Saturday, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said it’s clear Obama was touched by “the spirit of Hiroshima” and its refusal to accept nuclear weapons, while Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said Tuesday in his city’s ceremony that the president “showed the rest of the world the importance of seeing, listening and feeling things for oneself.”
This year, the annual ceremony in Hiroshima drew representatives from 91 nations and the European Union. The figure was the second-highest on record after 100 nations were represented last year on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing, the municipal government said.
Tetsuo Kaneko, 68, one of the representatives of the Hiroshima Congress against A- and H-Bombs, said learning about the realities of the atomic bombings was the starting point of the anti-nuclear movement in Japan. “In that sense, Obama’s visit was meaningful” as it highlighted what the city experienced, he said.
“If you see exhibits at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, you can immediately understand that nuclear weapons . . . should never exist,” said Teruko Yamane, a 74-year-old atomic bomb survivor in Hiroshima who was 3 years old when the world’s first nuclear bomb was used on Aug. 6, 1945, near her grandmother’s house where she was staying.
“I’m frustrated by the fact that nuclear weapons are yet to be abolished,” said Yamane, who lost her younger sister in the blast. The museum displays various artifacts and items belonging to the victims.
There are still some 15,400 nuclear weapons in the world as of January, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Hiroko Takahashi, a visiting researcher at the International Peace Research Institute of Meiji Gakuin University and an expert in American history, said the reality of atomic bombings is not well known in the United States, which can be attributed in part to the type of media coverage the event received.
According to Takahashi, the human impact of nuclear weapons is not explicitly covered by U.S. media. While they often show images of mushroom clouds and collapsing buildings, images of charred remains or bodies damaged by radiation are rarely shown.
Reporting on how the effects of radiation can last for generations is rare, she said.
This lack of knowledge about the impact of atomic bombs on the human body explains why the idea of nuclear deterrence is tolerated, Takahashi said, which is why it’s so important for Hiroshima and Nagasaki to keep telling the world what actually happened “under the mushroom cloud.”
Kaneko said that some members of the peace group were annoyed that the U.S. leader did not take enough time to see the Hiroshima museum and listen to the testimony of hibakusha.
During his visit to Hiroshima, Obama stopped at the museum for only around 10 minutes before giving his speech and met briefly with several hibakusha.
But Kaneko says Obama’s visit has served to highlight the inaction of the Japanese government when it comes to global moves to abolish nuclear arms.
Recent news reports said the administration of Obama plans to submit a resolution to the U.N. Security Council, possibly in September, to call for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons, and that it is also considering declaring a “no first use” policy for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
“Unfortunately, the Japanese government is not responding to this move,” Kaneko said, adding it is now clear that the government is more inclined to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance, which includes nuclear deterrence, than to eliminate nuclear weapons.
At a meeting with representatives of local atomic bomb survivors’ groups in Hiroshima on Saturday, Abe was urged to work for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, but he stopped short of outlining Japan’s position on the issue.
On Aug. 5, the final session of the U.N. nuclear disarmament working group opened in Geneva to discuss a legal framework to ban nuclear weapons. Japan is participating in the talks, but is adopting a negative stance toward the planned legal framework banning nuclear arsenals.
Tokyo, which is under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, sees the outlawing of nuclear arms as a radical approach, although it hopes for a world free of nuclear weapons one day.
Imari Yasuno, a 16-year-old high school student from Nagasaki and member of a student group for nuclear abolition, said she felt “indignation” about her government’s inaction. “(It) should be embarrassed to face hibakusha as it is wasting their experiences.”
Yasuno was among some 100 invitees to the Hiroshima ceremony at which Obama delivered his historic speech. Although she found the speech somewhat abstract, she said she felt more responsible than ever to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons after seeing the thousands of people who lined the route of the president’s motorcade.
When she delivers a speech as a student peace ambassador at the U.N. conference on disarmament in Geneva later this month, she intends to promote the slogan used by hibakusha in her city: “Nagasaki must be the last.”
If the government is not pushing forward with the issue, she said, “then youth like us must.”