The historical significance of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima
—The U.S. freed from the spell of the atomic bomb
By Sugihara Seishiro, Former Professor at Josai University
On this day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I would like to present Prof. Sugihara’s thoughtful essay on the meaning of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on May 27, 2016. The following is the translator’s introduction, written by Mr. Norman Hu:
Few have commented on the importance of President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on May 27, 2016. But among these, Sugihara Seishiro discusses its significance as an act of reconciliation between Japan and the United States, even while he decries the atomic bombings as crimes against countless innocents. Sugihara emphasizes how important it is that this reconciliation was born from the use of the atomic bombs, and how it is a critical and bold statement in the 21st century, when it has become all too commonplace for nations to criticize each other without regard for the long-term consequences.
Japan is the only nation to have experienced the impact of an atomic bomb, and the United States is the only one to have dropped such a weapon in an act of war. Western scholars often discuss Hiroshima with a view to justify what the U.S. did to Japan at war’s end, while Asians may see that action as excessive and entirely preventable. While many Americans argue that the atomic bombs shortened the war and saved further loss of life (both among the Japanese but in particular those of American troops), Japanese people continue to regard the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a supreme tragedy. President Obama highlighted “the remarkable transformation” in relations between the U.S. and Japan inasmuch as seventy years ago, “it would have been very difficult to imagine given the hostility between our two countries.”
This essay was recognized in 2016 for its contribution to modern and contemporary history by the APA Group’s 9th Annual Essay Competition. It is presented here in English for the benefit of readers outside of Japan. Sugihara presents the case that these close ties between erstwhile bitter enemies are a testament to humanity’s ability to reconcile given even the most virulent of enmities. Crucially, it is a clear statement that one not only needs to acknowledge and learn from history, but above all, to look forward.