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A year after Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima

  • May 23, 2017
  • , Kanagawa Shimbun , p. 8
  • JMH Translation

May 27 will mark a year since former U.S. President Barack Obama, an advocate of a “nuclear-free world,” visited Hiroshima, the ground zero of the U.S atomic bomb dropped during World War II, as the first sitting U.S. president. His visit was expected to accelerate nuclear abolition, but momentum has been lost since the inauguration of the U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump, who favors the expansion of nuclear force. At the U.N., negotiations over the establishment of the nuclear weapons convention are underway, but the schism runs deep between nuclear powers and non-nuclear nations. A-bomb survivors hope that the convention will pave the way for nuclear elimination in the future.


“President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima again offered the opportunity to let the world know about the inhumanity of nuclear weapons,” said Akira Kawasaki, a co-representative of the Peace Boat, a non-profit organization. This high-profile visit contributed to raising awareness of ground zero. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which showcased four paper cranes folded by Obama, attracted a record 1.74 million visitors in fiscal 2016.


For the Japanese government, welcoming President Obama to Hiroshima was a significant milestone in diplomacy, but in the U.S., President Trump, who advocates a muscular nuclear force, came into office in January. Meanwhile, international tensions have been escalating over North Korea’s aggressive nuclear development. Japan’s nuclear disarmament efforts have stagnated.


“The two visits [by Obama to Hiroshima and by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii] functioned to skillfully glorify the strengthening of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” said Haruko Moritaki, a co-representative of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition.


At the U.N., first-ever negotiations in history began over the establishment of the nuclear weapons convention in March. But the U.S., Russia and other nuclear powers did not attend the proceeding. Nor did Japan, which depends on the U.S. “nuclear umbrella.” The government reportedly concluded that negotiations without the presence of nuclear powers was of little significance, but the decision seems to have been swayed by the “Prime Minister’s Office, which values paying consideration to the U.S.,”  says a government source. 


“We should not solely count on Mr. Obama,” said Kunihiko Sakuma, head of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers’ Associations. “A-bomb survivors need to continue to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. We continue to campaign for nuclear powers to sign the convention.”


Obama’s paper cranes, which had been thrust into the public limelight, were moved from the museum’s second floor, which overlooks the A-bomb dome and throng of visitors, to the basement. They are exhibited without fanfare, as if the cranes had rested their wings. (Abridged)



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