If he is truly committed to peace, Obama will listen to Hiroshima survivors

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

The White House announced this week that President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, the site of the world's first atomic-bomb attack. He will be the first sitting president to go there, and only the second president ever, after former President Jimmy Carter visited in 1984. Obama's pilgrimage to Hiroshima, where 140,000 people were killed and another 100,000 seriously injured on Aug. 6, 1945, will not be accompanied by a formal apology. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the trip was to highlight Obama's "continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." Yet the Obama administration also recently revealed its 30-year, $1-trillion plan to modernize the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal.

With each passing year, fewer and fewer survivors of the horrific attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain to provide eyewitness accounts. These survivors are referred to with great respect in Japan as "hibakusha." In 2014, we were given a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park by a hibakusha, Koji Hosokawa. He was 17 in 1945. His sister was 13. "My biggest sorrow in my life is about my younger sister, who died in the atomic bomb," he said.

While in Japan, we also went to Tokyo to speak with the world-renowned writer Kenzaburo Oe in his publisher's office. He won the 1994 Nobel Prize for literature. We asked him if President Obama should apologize for the two atomic bombings: "I am not seeking an apology, whether from the president or from any kind of person, in regards to this issue," he told us. "I believe the fact that humanity did create these nuclear weapons is a crime that all of humanity is responsible for. And I believe this is an issue of a much greater scale than any individual politician could make an apology for." Oe, 81, is not a hibakusha, but is a survivor of the Second World War, and the experience as a child deeply impacted him.

As if anticipating the criticism that Obama is now receiving, accused of mounting an "apology tour," Kenzaburo Oe said in 2014:

"I believe that if Mr. Obama were to come to the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for example, what he could do is come together with the hibakusha, the survivors, and share that moment of silence, and also express considering the issue of nuclear weapons from the perspective of all humanity and how important nuclear abolition is. [This,] I think, would be the most important thing that any politician or representative could do at this time."

Since those two devastating bombings in 1945, on Aug. 6 in Hiroshima and Aug. 9 in Nagasaki, there have thankfully been no more military attacks with nuclear weapons. The U.S. and the Soviet Union came close, and nuclear warheads remain armed and aimed in both the U.S. and Russian arsenals. Kevin Martin of Peace Action, responding to the news of Obama's planned trip to Hiroshima, also places little importance on an apology. Instead, he offers this brief list of to-do items for the president:

"Taking our nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert, separating the warheads from their delivery systems, initiating negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons globally, initiating talks on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. ... But even the current deployed nuclear weapons, we could go down to a thousand or fewer, as the Pentagon has suggested in the past. Those are just some of the steps that would be meaningful and worth a trip to Hiroshima."

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a beautiful, haunting place. The most iconic landmark is the "A-bomb dome," atop a large building that was not completely destroyed. As we left the memorial, Koji Hosokawa told us to stop. He looked us in the eye and told us not to forget the victims: "People lived here. They lived here." President Obama should meet Koji Hosokawa and other hibakusha, and hear their stories.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America. They are currently on a 100-city U.S. tour. This column was first published in Truthdig.

Photo: Buroll/Wikimedia Commons

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.