U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to visit Hiroshima on May 27 after attending the Group of Seven (G-7) summit conference in the Ise-Shima district of Mie Prefecture. Japanese people have awaited the visit for more than 70 years since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will accompany the U.S. president in his visit to Hiroshima.
President Obama's decision is welcome. There was a high hurdle for a visit by Obama to the atomic-bombed city even though he has won a Nobel Peace Prize for advocating a world without nuclear weapons. Views that the nuclear attacks brought forward the end of World War II and saved the lives of 500,000 to 1 million people are prevalent in the United States.
The foreign ministers of nuclear powers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and laid wreaths to the cenotaph for atomic-bombing victims on the occasion of the G-7 foreign ministerial conference last month. The visit did not stir strong protests in the United States and major U.S. newspapers ran editorials urging Obama to visit Hiroshima. These reflect changes in public opinion in the United States.
One of the reasons for these moves is the threat that North Korea's nuclear weapons development poses to the United States. The announcement that the U.S. president will visit Hiroshima was made as if it were timed to coincide with a congress of North Korea's Workers' Party apparently because Tokyo and Washington kept in mind the hostile political climate in East Asia. It is hoped that a visit by the Japanese and U.S. leaders to Hiroshima will have a positive influence on the North Korean situation.
The Japanese government is reportedly dissatisfied with Kerry's failure to have dialogue with hibakusha, or atomic-bombing survivors. Therefore, Obama should frankly listen to what hibakusha have to say. Opinions persist in the United States that the president should not apologize for the atomic bombings. However, hibakusha apparently want the president to share the horror of nuclear weapons with them as human beings rather than offer an apology.
The Mainichi Shimbun has urged a U.S. president to visit the atomic-bombed cities since Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons in a speech he delivered in Prague in April 2009. It is no easy task to achieve this goal. However, we firmly believe that a long journey toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons should start with praying for the repose of the souls of those who were killed by the horrific weapons of mass destruction.
In the United States, the Democratic and Republican parties' selection of their respective presidential candidates has entered the final stretch. Donald Trump, who has been virtually selected as the Republican Party's presidential candidate, may use the president's visit to Hiroshima to criticize the Democratic Party. However, moves toward nuclear disarmament are extremely slow while the threat posed by nuclear weapons is increasing on a global scale.
The 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons collapsed due to a conflict between nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers. Russian President Vladimir Putin mentioned the possibility that the country will prepare nuclear weapons in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. The world is in an increasingly dangerous situation.
It would be narrow-minded to exploit a visit by the U.S. president to Hiroshima for political purposes. Rather, the visit should be an important opportunity for global citizens to be fully aware of the crisis human beings face.