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Hibakusha: A-bomb sufferers' group official regrets praising Obama speech

Terumi Tanaka (Mainichi)

The secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, who praised the speech given by United States President Barack Obama during his visit to Hiroshima, says he regretted doing so after learning the content of the speech in more detail.

Terumi Tanaka, 84, was in attendance on May 27 this year when Obama was making what was the first visit of a sitting U.S. president to Hiroshima. Together with two other members of the confederation, he attended the ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where Obama spoke.

There was an interpreter for Obama's speech, but the speech was not handed out on paper. Tanaka was nervous as he listened, and without time to discuss the speech with the two other members, he was asked at a post-ceremony press conference for his opinion of Obama's speech. Sentences from the latter part of the speech, such as his reference to a future in which "Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known ... as the start of our own moral awakening," had stuck with him, and he praised the sentence as "excellent words." He noted, however, that he was "disappointed" that Obama had said, "We may not realize this goal (of a world without nuclear weapons) in my lifetime."

The next morning, with two newspapers in hand while on board a bullet train for home, Tanaka opened a page containing the Japanese translation of the speech. It began, "Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed." Tanaka was stunned.

"Death did not 'fall from the sky.' This is making the death abstract. This is absolutely unacceptable," Tanaka thought. While on board the train he opened his laptop and began to write his "Essay of Regret." As he typed, erased and retyped, he says, "I began to get angry and stopped midway."

"They 'created' the death. As a sign of apology, I want them to eliminate nuclear weapons," he says.

Within the Essay of Regret, Tanaka blamed himself. At the press conference, he had, without thinking back well on the speech's contents, praised the speech's proactive tone. While he also expressed his dissatisfaction with its lack of any concrete description of the path forward to ending nuclear weapons, he still regrets what he said and feels he must take strong responsibility for his words then.

Tanaka was 13 years old when the Nagasaki atomic bomb hit. He was at his home some 3.2 kilometers from the hypocenter. A glass door dislodged by the blast and other debris fell on him, but he was miraculously unhurt. When he returned to the blasted area three days later to check on his relatives, he found charred corpses strewn around the area.

"There was (the corpse of) somebody with maggots growing," he recalls. The bomb stole the lives of five of his relatives, including an aunt.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations. At a June 16 general meeting in Tokyo this year of the confederation, it adopted a resolution criticizing Obama's speech for "not mentioning at all his responsibility as president (in connection to the dropping of the atomic bomb)."

Tanaka says, "It does not mean that we just want him to say 'I apologize.' We want him to stand at the forefront of the movement to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world."

He adds, "Seventy-one years ago, death did not 'fall from the sky' like some natural phenomenon. They 'created' it when they dropped the atomic bomb. They created a hell that mustn't exist in our world." (By Sachi Fukushima, City News Department, Tokyo Head Office)

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