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

President Obama's Hiroshima Speech was a Test of Maturity for the People of Japan and America
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

July 8, 2016
The US President's visit to Hiroshima had been a test, not for Barack Obama as a leader, but for the citizens of Japan and the United States. That is how I came to see the visit a week after the event.

During the President's visit to Hiroshima, we strained our ears and eyes, seeking to capture every word he uttered, follow his every move. How close will his words come to issuing an apology, how will he express his sincerity as he lays down the wreath and takes a moment of silence, what form will his encounter with the hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombing, take…? Many people in both Japan and the United States must have watched the simulcast of the ceremony with strong interest.

For President Obama, it must have been a precarious mission akin to walking a thin line through a minefield. One misstep, and he was met by vehement protest from conservatives at home, who believed America was justified in dropping the bomb, while stepping off the path to the other side brought accusations from the Japanese side that the visit was merely perfunctory and lacked substance.

But President Obama pulled it off with grace. His speech began with the words "Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed." It evoked the past in people's minds and immersed them in deep thought. While there were no clear words of apology, his words of mourning for the victims and expressions such as "we can tell our children a different story" came close to an apology.

In the end, we were made to realize it was not the President who had undergone a test, but the people of Japan and the United States. We had been tested for our maturity. Will we continue to dwell on the past and refuse to move forward until we hear an apology? Or, will we walk the path of nuclear disarmament as our common future? The subsequent response from the two countries seemed to demonstrate sufficient maturity on either side.

Another point I noticed when re-reading the speech was how he knelt down to the audience. This was not a speech directed at global leaders and politicians, but a message for ordinary people. Throughout the lengthy speech, words describing the atomic bomb or nuclear weapons were mentioned only four times. Instead, we find expressions such as "death," "a terrible force unleashed," "a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies," and "the splitting of an atom." The entire speech was charged with symbolism and emotion, and it was evident the President had sought to appeal to people's imagination to convey the inhuman and unethical nature of nuclear weapons.

If I may add another observation, faced with setbacks on the road to nuclear disarmament, it almost felt as if President Obama was pinning his hopes on ordinary citizens, as if he wanted people to close in on their governments towards realizing a nuclear-free world. If that were so, Hiroshima and Nagasaki will become a base from which to rouse the imagination of citizens around the world.

Megumi Nishikawa is contributing editor for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. This article originally appeared in the morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun on June 3, 2016.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2016年 7月 8日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > President Obama's Hiroshima Speech was a Test of Maturity for the People of Japan and America