Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

More wreath-laying diplomacy should follow Obama's visit to Hiroshima
MATSUO Fumio / Journalist

June 21, 2016
It was an "historic moment" for an incumbent President of the United States to lay a wreath for the first time at the Atomic Bomb Memorial in Hiroshima, but President Obama enacted it without histrionics. As he started to speak about "the means mankind possessed to destroy itself", his expressions did not betray the emotions that might have been stirring in his mind when he saw minutes earlier the proofs of the destruction at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Nor was there the intense fervor with which he declared "As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act" in his speech on a world without nuclear weapons in Prague in 2009.

The somber ambiance of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was a far cry from the frenzy of the massive crowds who packed Hradcany Square in Prague fully and echoed Obama's call "Yes, we can", which had been kept under seal until then since his assumption of office. President Obama only repeated his appeal to "have the courage to pursue a world without nuclear weapons." In contrast, his references to the Koreans and American POWs who had fallen victim to the atomic bomb revealed the realistic considerations weighing in his mind.

What was brought into sharp relief was the challenging situation regarding nuclear disarmament, which continues to deteriorate as arms control negotiations are stalled and North Korea develops its nuclear weapons. Just before the President's visit to Hiroshima, a hope was floated that he might make an ambitious proposal for nuclear disarmament, but it was dashed. There was also talk about an idea to have former American POWs on the Philippine front accompany the President, a scenario designed for the American pubic. It did not come to pass either. Those were indicative of the realities of the Presidency with only eight more months in office. One could only wish that his visit to Hiroshima had taken place in the course of on his earlier visits to Japan.

That said, we should appreciate highly the significance of the ceremony for the repose of the soul, whereby President Obama mourned not just the victims of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also all the victims of the World War. To many Japanese, this was like burning the proverbial incense sticks for the deceased. I say this because I saw it as the Japanese version of the "Dresden Reconciliation", which I personally had been advocating for years. In the ceremony held by Germany, the United States and Great Britain on the 50th anniversary of the indiscriminate bombing of Dresden, Roman Herzog, then President of Germany, said in his forthright and dignified speech, "One cannot offset life against life". By clearly rejecting the logic that Nazi atrocities justified the Allied killing of non-combatant German civilians, he sublimated apology into reconciliation. The Dresden bombing, just three months before Germany's defeat, had been known as the "Hiroshima of Europe".

Today, Japan should take some diplomatic actions in return. It is desirable that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe moves beyond his reconciliation speech to the Joint Meeting of the U.S. Congress in April last year and visits the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, which symbolizes the memories of the war, to lay a wreath. As China keeps pointedly warning us "not to forget that Japan was the perpetrator", there should be wreath-laying in Chongqing, where more than 10,000 people fell victim to Japan's trans-oceanic bombing, and Nanking, where, the Japanese side does not deny, the massacre of a certain number of civilians had taken place. With the Republic of Korea, the process of translating into action the agreement on the issue of comfort women at the end of last year into remains suspended in midair, and Prime Minister Abe can send a new letter to expedite it. Serious consideration of some such decisive actions toward reconciliation in East Asia is called for.

Prime Minister Abe is on exceptionally friendly terms with President Putin of Russia. It is strongly desired that Prime Minister Abe appeals to President Putin to lay a wreath at the Memorial Cenotaph for the Deceased Japanese erected in Khabarovsk in memory of estimated 50,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians who had perished under confinement in Siberia. Japan can make an active proposal for wreath-laying diplomacy in this instance.

President Obama's visit to Japan brought the Japan-U.S. relationship into a new stage.
At the same time, we should not forget that problems abound, such as the case of the suspected abandonment of a girl's corpse in Okinawa and the debate in the course of the U.S. presidential campaigns, where the presumptive Republican candidate Donald Trump takes fundamental issue with the current Japan-U.S. security arrangements.

Fumio Matsuo is former Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief of Kyodo News. This article first appeared in the Kyodo News on May 31, 2016.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

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2016年 6月 21日







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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > More wreath-laying diplomacy should follow Obama's visit to Hiroshima