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Paving the Way for a Presidential Visit to Hiroshima

Remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry at the recent G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Hiroshima have kindled hopes for a historic presidential visit to the site of the world’s first atomic bombing. Miyama Hideaki, a veteran journalist and civic leader living in Hiroshima, talked to us about the meaning of such a visit and his own efforts to help bring it about.

Miyama Hideaki

Miyama HideakiJournalist, president of Hiroshima Television. Born in 1946 in Toyama Prefecture. Graduated from Waseda University. Worked as Washington Bureau chief and political news editor for the Yomiuri Shimbun before assuming his current position in June 2011.

Visiting Hiroshima on April 10 and 11 for a meeting of Group of Seven foreign ministers, Secretary of State John Kerry became the first sitting US cabinet member to set foot in that city and tour its memorials to the victims of the atomic bomb. “This was a display that I will personally never forget,” said Kerry of the Peace Memorial Museum. “I don’t see how anyone could forget the images, the evidence, and the recreations of what happened on August 6, 1945.”

After the museum tour, the ministers laid wreaths at the cenotaph in Peace Memorial Park. At Kerry’s suggestion, they also visited the Atomic Bomb Dome, the preserved ruins of the building at the hypocenter of the explosion. At the press conference that followed, Kerry spoke from the heart about the museum’s “gut-wrenching” reminders of war’s human toll, and he promised to convey to President Barack Obama “what I saw here and how important it is at some point to try to get here.”

Miyama Hideaki, a veteran journalist and president of Hiroshima Television, talked with about Kerry’s remarks in the context of ongoing efforts to bring Obama himself to Hiroshima.

John Kerry (center left), other G7 foreign ministers, and the EU high representative, stand in front of the cenotaph in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park on April 11, 2016. © Jiji

Working Behind the Scenes

In 2013, Hiroshima TV launched the “Letters to Obama” campaign, and in September 2015, Miyama traveled to Washington carrying 1,400 letters from Hiroshima citizens to Obama, urging the president to visit. According to Miyama, the National Security Council official to whom he handed the letters seemed deeply moved and went so far as to inquire about Hiroshima’s location in relation to Ise-Shima, site of the May 26 G7 summit, and the US air base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

“I didn’t speak with the Japanese media about these behind-the-scenes efforts to bring Obama to Hiroshima,” says Miyama. “But has readers in all five of the recognized nuclear states—America, Britain, France, China, and Russia. I thought Kerry’s visit was a good opportunity to send a message.”

Although most observers—including Japan’s own foreign policy officials—agree that a visit to Hiroshima by Obama is a long shot, Miyama sees the recent foreign ministers’ meeting as an important stepping-stone to such a groundbreaking presidential appearance.

“A visit by a sitting president of the United States, which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is something that both cities have been hoping to bring about for the past seventy-one years. The US government has maintained throughout that the bombing was needed to bring the war to a swift end and avoid the deaths of hundreds of thousands of young Americans. In American society today, though, there are signs of a subtle shift in attitudes regarding the bombing, especially among the younger generation. Close to eight years ago, near the beginning of his presidency, President Obama gave a memorable speech in Prague calling for an end to nuclear weapons, and I think the time is ripe for him to cap his presidency by delivering a historic statement on nuclear disarmament in Hiroshima.”

  • [2016.04.25]
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