Prime Minister Abe to Visit the United States:
Should Invite President Obama to Visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Mainichi Shimbun,  February 12, 2013

Kinue Tokudome 

I saw Mr. Clifton Truman Daniel’s visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki last August with certain emotions. I had interviewed him, the grandson of President Harry S. Truman, twice. In 1999, I asked him how he felt about the dropping of the Atomic bomb for an article I was writing for a Japanese monthly magazine. While stating that he believed his grandfather made the right decision, he nevertheless added, “But as a human being I can’t help but feel that this was a terrible weapon and what an awful thing to have to use.” In 2004, I arranged another interview with him for a Japanese newspaper where he stated again, “I can’t ignore as a human being the price people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the rest of Japan paid.” In both interviews he expressed his wish to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki if invited, saying, “I assume that it would be all in the name of understanding, healing and remembering.”

His visit became reality because of his comment during the interview that he had read “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.” It was a story of a little girl who folded paper cranes with a hope to live while suffering from leukemia caused by the Atomic bomb. Mr. Masahiro Sasaki, the brother of Sadako, read it in the newspaper article and extended an invitation for Mr. Daniel to visit Japan.

Mr. Daniel recently shared with me his reflection on his visit to Japan.

He wrote,” My only wish was to be present, to listen to the survivor, and to visit the memorials to pay my respects to those who died.” But soon after arriving in Japan he was asked “Are you here to apologize?” He had a moment of doubt when he thought the entire trip may have been a mistake. But his worries vanished when Mr. Sasaki embraced him and assured him that they would do it together, when Hibakushas (survivors of the Atomic bombing) agreed to meet with him and share their stories, and when Japanese people accepted his gesture in the spirit in which it was made.

“I promised many of the survivors that I would continue to tell their stories as a way to teach future generations about the horrors of nuclear war. I am working on a book project, as well as appearing on TV where I spoke about my visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am also working on a project to archive survivors’ testimony.”

I was moved to learn that he has been true to his words during my interview more than ten years ago, “I want to visit Japan to learn.”

I asked his thoughts on a possible visit by President Obama to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“He should visit both cities -- it would be great if it were on the occasion of a multination conference on nuclear disarmament. Failing that, he might just do what I did -- go, listen, pay his respects. No matter how anyone in this country feels about my grandfather's decision, I think we can all feel sorrow for the loss of life and empathy for those who survived.”

The Japanese Foreign Ministry reportedly told the US in August of 2009 that President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima would be “premature.”  Since then, President Obama was re-elected and Japan had a new administration under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It is not clear what makes the Foreign Ministry decide if the timing is ripe for such a visit. But considering the advanced age of Hibakushas and World War II generations in both countries, Prime Minister Abe should invite President Obama to Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he visits Washington DC later this month. Some may view a visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki by a sitting American President as a highly political issue. But a simple visit like the one Mr. Daniel made by President Obama will have immeasurable symbolic meaning.

But in order for such a visit to be supported by citizens of both countries, Japan should make efforts too. To this day, there are Japanese magazines that boldly publish articles denying the Bataan Death March, a very significant event in US history. And while many Japanese people want experiences of Hibakushas to be told to American people, they hardly know about the sufferings of more than 12,000 American POWs who were brought to Japan and made to perform slave labor. (Almost 10% of them perished.) With this situation in Japan, it will be difficult to obtain support for President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki from American people. Japanese people need to become interested in others’ sufferings as fellow human beings and make efforts to learn about their experiences.

A visit by President Obama to Hiroshima and Nagasaki may very well be the last chance for citizens of the US and Japan to be able to promise to those who lived through WWII that we will work together to tell their stories to future generations.

* Kinue Tokudome is the Founder and Director of US-Japan Dialogue on POWs.