Peace and protest in Hiroshima

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By Catherine Hardy  with REUTERS
Peace and protest in Hiroshima

Thousands of people gathered to witness the first visit by an incumbent US president to the site of the world’s first atomic bombing at Hiroshima.

I greatly welcome him

Thousands of people surrounded the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to witness the historic arrival of Barack Obama.

Spectators waved and took photographs as Obama’s motorcade arrived in the early evening.

They looked on as he laid a memorial wreath at the cenotaph for the victims of the 1945 bombing.

The US president also shook hands with two survivors, one of whom burst into tears before embracing the president.

What relationship does the US have with nuclear weapons these days?

Obama set out a vision for a “world without nuclear weapons” in his landmark speech in Prague in 2009.

Delivered just three months into his first term, the speech earned the US president the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, in his speech at Hiroshima, Obama avoided any direct expression of remorse or apology for the bombing.

Should the US apologise?

Opinion is divided.

Some survivors have said they would welcome an apology from Obama. However, many say they feel the priority should be ridding the world of nuclear

65-year-old Sayoko Iwama’s mother died from a disease related to radiation exposure after the attack. She says an apology does not matter to her: “People may have different opinions on that issue, but I think it has happened in the past and it would be better to think about living in happiness in the future.”



Campaigners against the US-Japan military alliance and nuclear weapons.


  • Some claim that while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited Obama in the name of peace, both countries stand in favour of military expansion.

“The real purpose is not to abolish nuclear weapons but to affirm the necessity of nuclear weapons. As for the real goal of Prime Minister Abe, the Japanese government has made a resolution that it is not unconstitutional for Japan to have nuclear weapons. I think Prime Minister Abe has such an opinion and he wants Japan to have nuclear weapons,” said a protester.

  • Others say that Abe has learnt nothing from history and is trying to lift the ban on collective self-defence. They urge Abe to reflect on the past as he thinks about the future.

“It was a war of aggression waged by Japanese militarists. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid no attention to this fact, but has kept doing his own thing. This is just his concept of history,” said another protester.

  • A US soldier has been arrested after the discovery of a Japanese woman’s body in Okinawa. The case has triggered bad feeling among Japanese citizens.

“The existence of the US military base in Okinawa is wrong. Japan should remove the US military base in Okinawa. Such a military base should not exist here or anywhere in the country. As the president of the country that waged wars in Syria and the Middle East, why did he say he wants to abolish nuclear weapons? I cannot forgive such a man for coming to Hiroshima,” said another protester.


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, scene of Obama’s historic visit.

What they are saying

“I am very happy to see him visiting here. He has sent out the message for peace in the past and today he is putting his words into practice. I greatly welcome him,” – 71-year-old survivor, Motoko Onoe.

“It would have been much better if a US president could have come sooner. It took 71 years; I think it should have happened earlier,” – 88-year-old survivor Akira Kondo says the wait has been too long.

“His visit to Hiroshima means a lot because it is a step forward from all the concilatory rhetoric we traded so far,” – Chise Igawa, 40-year-old Hiroshima resident and grand-daughter of bombing victim.