US President Visits Hiroshima

Barack Obama has become the first serving US president to visit Hiroshima since the nuclear attacks of the Second World War

June 07th, 2016

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Obama shake hands at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in front of the cenotaph for the victims of the nuclear attacks.

After 70 years, President Obama has become the first serving president to visit Hiroshima and pay his respects to the Japanese victims of World War II. The instance of a U.S. President visiting Hiroshima has been a perennial issue for decades due to several obstacles, including how the public both in the U.S. and in Japan would perceive the visit, and how it might reopen wounds of the past and reignite tensions between the two nations. With this in mind, this visit was a ‘diplomatic dance’ and has been carefully orchestrated so as to avoid misinterpretations and bridge cultural differences.

In contrast to Japan, which has been and still is offering apologies for wartime atrocities to China and Korea, Obama’s visit to Hiroshima is not an apology, but rather a highlighting of U.S.- Japan relations. In his speech, President Obama has said that the dropping of the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima, and 3 days later in Nagasaki, which claimed the lives of at least 200,000 people must be remembered in order to avoid a repetition of events. Obama also spoke about pursuing a world without nuclear weapons, which the Japanese and others have met with scepticism, as the U.S. currently holds one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. According to Ben Rhodes, the deputy of national security and main speechwriter for the president, President Obama very carefully wrote his speech aiming it to be “a broad reflection on what we must learn from history”.

The Japanese public has welcomed Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, according to an opinion poll, and most do not mind that no apology has been offered. However, many Japanese regard the dropping of the atomic bombs as something incredibly cruel and, as explained by the daughter of one Survivor, the suffering has “carried on over the generations”. As a result, many hoped that President Obama would listen to the suffering of the victims of Hiroshima during his visit and try to understand the scale of destruction that has taken place.

The whole visit was riddled with symbolism regarding the history between Japan and the U.S., as the two nations progressed from being enemies towards being allies, making it a powerful event of remembrance and reconciliation. Obama and Shinzo Abe laid flowers separately at the cenotaph for the atomic bomb victims at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Obama only slightly bowed his head, which can be seen as an attempt to avoid the action being seen as an apology, and Shinzo Abe bowing his head deeply, in line with Japanese customs. Obama and Shinzo Abe then proceeded to meet two survivors of Hiroshima, following with Obama hugging 79-year-old survivor Shigeaki Mori; a image bound to resonate deeply with the Japanese public.


Cultural Diplomacy News
Dominique Schmutzer, CD News