Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons:
President Obama's Visit to Hiroshima
Interview with Yasuyoshi Komizo,
Chairperson of Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation
An article printed in a governing coalition party's press on Saturday, June 4, 2016
<<A Courageous Act by the Top Leader of a Superpower>>

Interviewer: President Obama was the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima. What would you like to say about it?

Komizo: Since President Obama made his Prague speech in 2009, there has been a strong expectation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that further progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons will be made, and hope that he would visit the A-bombed cities. President Obama is the highest executive authority of a nuclear superpower and bears an immeasurable responsibility with regard to realizing a world without nuclear weapons. I appreciate his courage to visit Hiroshima.
  I believe there were huge challenges in planning this visit. As it was scheduled in the midst of the unpredictable 2016 US presidential election campaign, there must have been mounting advice of caution by party machineries and by his aides asking him to act and speak with the utmost prudence in order not to make any negative impacts against the ongoing campaign. He was also under immense public pressure within the US not to offer an apology to Japan.

Interviewer: So the President made his decision while he was facing concerns in and out of the country over many issues that could have unpredictable repercussions.

Komizo: I believe, as reported in the media, John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, and Caroline Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to Japan, played an important role in realizing this visit.
  Mr. Kerry visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park during the G7 Foreign Ministers' Meeting this April. I heard that Ambassador Kennedy's advice was crucial for his decision to visit the Park. Mr. Kerry wrote in the guest book of the Peace Memorial Museum, "Everyone in the world should see and feel the power of this memorial." When he exceeded his scheduled visit of the Park and unexpectedly walked as far as to the Atomic Bomb Dome across the river, I observed it was then that Mr. Kerry decided to advise the President to visit Hiroshima.

Interviewer: The President's visit to the Peace Memorial Museum was a short one. Can you tell us how he spent his time in the Museum?

Komizo: Our museum had arranged in the lobby what we call "A-bombed artifacts," such as a student's charred lunch box, photo panels depicting the effects of the bombing, and paper cranes folded by Ms. Sadako Sasaki. The President viewed these exhibits very intently. Then, to the two children who were there to welcome him, Mr. Obama handed paper cranes, one apiece, which he had folded himself. He laid two more cranes on the Museum's guest book. So a total of four paper cranes have been donated to the Museum by the President.
  After he signed the guest book, the President started looking at a tile art mural about the Silk Road created from a painting by the late painter Ikuo Hirayama. I approached Mr. Obama and told him that Mr. Hirayama had been Hibakusha himself and that he painted only one picture about the bombing in his lifetime. I also told him that Mr. Hirayama had painted that picture in fervent wish that such a tragedy would never happen again. The President thanked me with a reflective expression on his face.

<<The Movement for Nuclear Disarmament: At a Crossroads for Gaining or Losing Momentum>>

Interviewer: The President was expected to offer a few minutes' remarks about his impressions after offering a wreath at the Cenotaph, but it turned out to be a "speech" of about 17 minutes.

Komizo: The issue of nuclear weapons had been a concern of Mr. Obama's even before he became president. This is evident, for example, from the reports and essays on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation he wrote when he was in college. Some claim that his speech in Hiroshima is hollow, offering no concrete proposals, but I think these judgments are unfair. We can see how hard he has tried to understand the agony of Hibakusha and to engrave their message on his heart. We can find evidence of this in many parts of his Hiroshima speech.
  I would also like to point out that the speech reflects his deep thought on the need to shift away from traditional conflict resolution logic that is based on the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and the use of force. It is also worth noting his expression, "The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki." On the lack of concrete proposals, my reading is that he tried his best to offer concrete proposals, but could not complete his preparations to do so. I think that is why Mr. Obama reportedly said after the speech to Prime Minister Abe that "This is just a beginning and we have before us many things to tackle together".

Interviewer: Mr. Obama chatted with Hibakusha, such as Mr. Sunao Tsuboi, the co-chairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations.

Komizo: For several decades now, the Hibakusha have been appealing for a world without nuclear weapons and warning the world on the inhumanity of these weapons. They have realized that peace cannot be achieved through the vicious cycle of revenge. And through their unbearable sufferings, they have come to their conviction that "no one shall ever again suffer as we have."
  Mr. Tsuboi welcomed President Obama with open arms, knowing Mr. Obama is doing his best but also bound by limitations. We cannot say that there are no more bitter feelings in the hearts of Hibakusha, but I think Mr. Tsuboi found sincerity in Mr. Obama as a leader and an individual who is working towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons and therefore decided to welcome him and appealed him to work further together for that noble goal. Mr. Obama also greeted Mr. Shigeaki Mori and expressed gratitude for Mr. Mori's longtime efforts in tracking down the stories of the American POWs who were killed by the bombing, as well as in his efforts to find, inform and console their bereaved families. It was a deeply touching encounter.

Interviewer: Do you think that President Obama's visit will create new momentum for a world without nuclear weapons?

Komizo: This is just my personal observation, but it could be that Mr. Obama considers his "Hiroshima Speech" an introduction to the last chapter of his term as President. I think he intends to do what he can during the remainder of his term and then to continue his efforts to realize a world without nuclear weapons even after he retires. This historic link established between an A-bombed city and Mr. Obama could serve as an important starting point for Hiroshima and Nagasaki to work together with Mr. Obama to create a world without nuclear weapons.
  The movement for nuclear disarmament is at a crossroads: Will it lose its momentum, or gain more and have a breakthrough? Just as an airplane needs both driving force and headwind for a takeoff, we need to overcome a different kind of headwind to realize the world without nuclear weapons. I believe that President Obama's visit to Hiroshima could become an important factor in positively changing the current situation surrounding the disarmament movement.

<<Breaking Free from "Nuclear Deterrence" and Building Wide-ranging Network of Mutual Trust>>

Interviewer: The international community is still filled with unstable factors like the cases of Ukraine, the Middle East, and North Korea.

Komizo: We must not allow them to be used as excuses for the stagnation of nuclear disarmament efforts. Just as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was followed by the conclusion of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), it is exactly a time for world leaders to rise to prevent and overcome crisis.
  Furthermore, consolidating common efforts by diverse civil society members across national boundaries to support such political leadership is also crucially important. In order to abolish nuclear weapons, we must break free from the security system that is based on nuclear deterrence and must enhance mutual trust on the grassroots level.
  Nuclear deterrence is based on mutual distrust and attempts to maintain peace through the threat of indiscriminate mass killings. Such a system cannot be sustainable. Instead of heavily relying on armed forces, we need to seek a new type of security system that can also promote mutual trust. This cannot be achieved by leaders' initiatives alone; a wide range of civil society partners need to work together to cultivate a better foundation for mutual trust.
  The work of Mayors for Peace is a good example of such civil society efforts. Our organization has been working for the realization of the peaceful world free of nuclear weapons based on the deep sense of responsibility as mayors to protect the safety and welfare of citizens. We are non-partisan and uniting together to achieve that goal. Presided over by the Mayor of Hiroshima, its membership has expanded to 7,063 cities in 161 countries/regions around the world, and still keeps growing.
  We in the civil society can jointly create a rising tide for change. Such joint efforts across the boundaries can give conscientious leaders the courage to change their policies. Such an environment can make political leadership more effective. Our world now is unfortunately filled with mutual distrust. Because of that, we in the civil society need to work together, more than ever, to create the common values needed to overcome differences.

Interviewer: What's your take on perspectives toward nuclear weapons abolition and nuclear disarmament?

Komizo: At the bottom of conflict is mutual distrust. Scrutinizing the concept of nuclear deterrence, we will find a dark thought that we can do anything to our enemies, no matter how cruel, in order to protect ourselves and our friends. This way of thinking can never bring peace to the world. We are different in many ways, such as skin color, religion, culture, and history. We therefore need to understand differences and then need to learn to appreciate diversity. With such an attitude, people with different background have to foster dialogue and work together to create common values.
  When people in different backgrounds try to work together, beyond their seeming differences, they will discover far greater commonality as members of same human family. Persistent common efforts by diverse civil society partners will eventually encourage conscientious policymakers to gather courage to take steps to introduce a new peace and security system that takes foundation on strengthened mutual trust. President Obama said in his speech in Hiroshima that once severely fought enemies, "the United States and Japan have forged not only an alliance but a friendship," I think his words suggest a new possibility of Japan-US cooperation that includes collaboration towards building peaceful world without nuclear weapons.
  We must note that nuclear weapons cannot offer any effective solutions to the global security challenges of the 21st century. We have to innovatively establish a reliable security system, in a framework that does not rely on force, but rather fostering mutual trust through wide-ranging measures to jointly create common values including cultural and economic exchanges. Now is the time to work together in earnest to search for reliable security system that is free from nuclear weapons.
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