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 May 30, 2016
After Hiroshima, Obama needs to follow up with specific actions

 U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to atomic bomb victims by visiting Hiroshima on May 27. His visit came 71 years after the United States leveled the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs in the closing days of the Pacific War. Obama became the first sitting American president to set foot in the city whose destruction ushered in the nuclear age.

Obama laid a wreath before the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and offered a silent prayer.

The fact that the leader of the country responsible for the attack reflected on the scourge of war in the city that was enveloped in a mushroom cloud will go down in history as an important chapter in the nuclear age.

In his speech at the memorial park, Obama stressed that the United States and other nuclear powers have a duty to continue efforts toward a future free from the fear of nuclear weapons. "Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them," he said.

Nuclear stockpiles around the world are estimated to number more than 15,000 warheads. We have a very long way to go to build a future that is not threatened by these weapons of mass destruction.

We applaud Obama for his fresh determination to accelerate progress in nuclear arms reduction in the city that was devastated by an atomic bomb seven decades ago.

His historic visit to Hiroshima must not be allowed to end up as just a flash in the pan. Turning this landmark event into a real first step toward a world without nuclear weapons requires vigorous actions from both the United States and Japan.

INHUMANE NATURE OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS

"Those who died (in Hiroshima), they are like us," Obama said. By this, he meant that the victims were just like people living today in Japan and the United States. Just one bomb turned the ordinary lives of these ordinary people 71 years ago into a picture of hell. This represents the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons that Hiroshima and Nagasaki want the entire world to learn about and understand.

Those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 included children who were mobilized for work in the cities, people from the Korean Peninsula and other parts of Asia, and American prisoners of war. Survivors of the atomic bombings had to spend the rest of their lives in fears of the aftereffects of their exposure to radiation.

The cenotaph for the A-bomb victims bears the following inscription: "Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil." This expresses the only wish of the A-bombed cities.

Obama spent only an hour in Hiroshima, and his conversations with the representatives of hibakusha were brief. Still, we are tempted to believe that the heartfelt wish of the two cities struck a responsive chord in the heart of the U.S. president.

We hope Obama will ponder afresh what he should do to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again.

The inhumane nature of nuclear weapons is something that everybody in the world should confront. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people can see firsthand what a nuclear weapon can do. We are eager to see politicians of all countries, especially those which possess nuclear weapons or are dependent on nuclear weapons, to visit these cities.

TRUE RECONCILIATION STILL ELUSIVE

"We must change our mind-set about war itself," Obama said, emphasizing the fundamental wrongness of war which led to the nuclear devastation of the two Japanese cities. He stressed the importance of preventing conflict through diplomacy. These words clearly reflected his basic beliefs, which drove his efforts to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout his tenure as president.

On the other hand, he made no reference to the responsibility for dropping the bombs.

In the United States, many people argue that the atomic bombings were justified on grounds they ended the war quickly and saved many lives. Obviously, Obama had to give careful consideration to various views and opinions about the issue among his fellow citizens.

Many A-bomb survivors had expressed their hopes that he would state that using nuclear weapons was a wrong decision, even if he had no intention to offer any apology. Obama's failure to address this issue disappointed some hibakusha.

This underscored afresh the difficulty of healing the "sores of history."

Obama also pointed to the friendly relationship that Japan and the United States have built since the end of the war. But true reconciliation can be achieved only after serious efforts are made by both sides to understand the feelings of the other and move closer to each other.

From this point of view, Obama's trip to Hiroshima should be regarded as just a first step, even though it was a big step.

Japan faces similar challenges in coming to terms with its own past.

Many people in the rest of Asia think the atomic bombings were fitting retribution for Japan's invasions of its neighbors. Some people in South Korea and China criticized Obama's visit to Hiroshima for "obscuring Japan's responsibility for the damage it caused to other countries."

Japan can only win the true trust of people in other Asian countries if it responds sincerely to the voices of the countries it harmed through its wartime actions and makes steady efforts for constructive exchanges with them, such as consoling the spirits of the victims in wartime battlefields.

END DEPENDENCE ON NUCLEAR ARMS

In his landmark 2009 speech in Prague, Obama laid out his vision for a "world without nuclear weapons." In Hiroshima, Obama demonstrated his unfading passion for that vision, but offered no specific plans for realizing it.

In the past seven years, the prospects for the elimination of nuclear weapons have become even more doubtful.

The Unites States and Russia have become locked in a sharp confrontation over issues like Moscow's intervention in the crisis in Ukraine. As a result, nuclear arms reduction talks between the two countries got mired in stagnation.

Meanwhile, North Korea has repeatedly conducted nuclear weapons tests, and China has been fast building up its nuclear arsenal.

What all countries possessing nuclear weapons have in common is a dependence on the threat of nuclear arms for their safety. This is also true with the United States and Japan, which is under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

There has been growing support among non-nuclear countries for the argument that nuclear weapons should be banned by an international treaty. This year, two United Nations working group sessions on this issue have been held.

But the United States and other nuclear powers refused to take part in the sessions. Japan participated but remains reluctant to support calls for a treaty to ban nuclear arms.

Unless the nuclear powers and their allies wean themselves from their dependence on nuclear weapons, there can be no progress toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Japan and the United States should start talks to figure out ways to diminish the role of nuclear arms in national security. The two nations should together tackle the challenge of designing and building a security regime that is not dependent on nuclear arms.

If the nuclear superpower and the only country to experience nuclear devastation can present a specific road map to achieve this goal, it will have an immeasurable impact on the quest to realize the vision of a nuclear-free world.

Obama's pilgrimage to Hiroshima can have the power to open up a new future only if it leads to such specific and effective actions.