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

Obama and Francis: Reflections on the Hiroshima Speech
UENO Kagefumi / Professor (non-tenured), Kyorin University

July 26, 2016
The speech given by President Barack Obama in Hiroshima on May 27 resonated deeply in people’s hearts. I, too, felt as if I had come in touch with the “soul” of President Obama, who had no doubt spent many hours crafting the speech. The speech, which touched on a variety of important issues, has already been widely critiqued both in Japan and abroad. These critiques have covered most of the major perspectives, such as Japan-US relations, de-nuclearization, and civilizational and human history. Here, I would like to focus on some perspectives that—in my understanding—have not yet been addressed.

In his historic speech, Obama stressed the importance of giving full thought to the individual victims of the Hiroshima bombing.

“Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? . . . We come to mourn the dead. . . . Their souls speak to us. . . .

“. . . We stand here, in the middle of this city, and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of . . . the wars that would follow. . . .

“. . . [W]e can . . . know that those same precious moments took place here seventy-one years ago. Those who died—they are like us.”

In short, Obama called on us to put ourselves in the victims’ shoes and look squarely at the reality of war, complete with the faces and stories of victims. Reading between the lines, Obama presumably had this message to convey: Past wars were predicated on massive casualties, and the human cost has been disregarded by those responsible for formulating national strategies and military operations. It is immoral, however, to design strategies and operations without giving thought to the countless victims. When planning an operation, one must have the imagination to foresee whether it will take a large human toll and refrain from executing immoral operations.

“We must change our mindset about war itself,” the president said, concluding that the international community should begin a “moral awakening.” As he gave his address, Obama’s demeanor evoked the image of a civil society activist or a post-modernistic thinker, rather than the commander-in-chief of his country’s armed forces. It was evident that Obama keeps his distance from the Trumanistic logic of war, though he did not articulate this.

Incidentally, there is another super-leader who has been remarking along similar lines: none other than Pope Francis. The pope urges politicians and bureaucrats to be “constantly conscious of the fact that . . . [they] are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer” when dealing with political and economic programs (speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015). He points out that “acts of destruction are never . . . abstract. . . . They always have a face, a concrete story, names” (September 2015 speech at the Ground Zero Memorial in New York).

Pope Francis is equally outspoken about his views on such issues as economic disparity and poverty. “[Poverty] has a face! It has the face of a child, it has the face of a family. . . . It has the face of forced migrations. . . . Without faces and stories, human lives become statistics and we run the risk of bureaucratizing the sufferings of others” (address to the Executive Board of the World Food Programme in June 2016).

In a speech he gave two and a half years ago, President Obama quoted a remark by the pope that had struck a chord with him: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” Obama further described the pope as an “extraordinarily thoughtful and soulful messenger of peace and justice,” according to a Los Angeles Times article on December 25, 2015.

When the man who holds the highest seat of power in the secular world finds himself on the same wavelength as the highest authority in the spiritual world, that is a rare and precious meeting of minds. Although the president has tended to stand at odds with the conservative Catholic church on issues relating to life and family ethics, the two men appear to think alike when it comes to social and economic issues. This is no coincidence. Look at their careers. They reveal that both are strongly field-oriented, committed to protecting the weak: Obama possesses a hands-on perspective stemming from his experience as a civil society activist, while Pope Francis comes from the “front lines of the Church,” a monastic order.

Two super-leaders with the most clout in the world, both of whom came from the field, repeat the message that we must think of the weak and the victims, sounding the alarm that strategies and plans formulated by state bureaucrats at times overlook those in the “field”—the weak. -This “collaboration” is an “asset” to the international community—a point deserving more attention—that the international community should capitalize on.

Reference: Ueno Kagefumi, Bachikan no sei to zoku: Nihon taishi no 1,400 nichi [The Sacred and Secular in the Vatican: 1,400 Days of a Japanese Ambassador] (Kanagawa: Kamakura Shunjusha, 2011).

Kagefumi Ueno is a civilizeational essayist and former Amb. to the Holy See.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

上野 景文 / 杏林大学特任教授

2016年 7月 26日











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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Obama and Francis: Reflections on the Hiroshima Speech