Global, Public Health

President Obama visited Hiroshima: it was time

May 27, 2016
japanese lantern ceremony

Japanese lantern memorial ceremony.

The President’s visit

President Obama visited Hiroshima, Japan, today. Here is a transcript of his speech.
It was the right thing to do. No previous sitting U.S. president had visited the site where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, devastating the city.

It’s almost inconceivable for us to imagine the horror; about 135,000 deaths are attributed to the bombing that day.

Apparently, even those presidents who intended to travel to Hiroshima were dissuaded by the politics surrounding such a visit. Kudos to President Obama for doing what should have been done many years ago. Examples like this one make me appreciate leaders who do what is right and decent.

Children's Peace Monument in Hiroshima, Japan

Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima, Japan

A few months ago, I sat next to an American woman whose husband’s leadership role with a U.S. company took the family to Japan for two years. They took their four children to Hiroshima to learn about what happened there, and she was deeply, passionately moved by the experience and very knowledgeable about Hiroshima.

She told me about their visiting the statue of Sadako Sasaki, a 12-year-old girl who died from bomb-induced radiation poisoning in October, 1955. As described in a Wikipedia article on the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park:

The Children’s Peace Monument is a statue dedicated to the memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing. The statue is of a girl with outstretched arms, with a folded paper crane rising above her, because Sasaki believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes, she would be cured. She wasn’t. To this day, people (mostly children) from around the world fold cranes and send them to Hiroshima where they are placed near the statue. The statue has a continuously replenished collection of folded cranes nearby.


Japanese school children dedicate a collection of paper origami cranes they are delivering to the memorial for Sadako Sasaki in Hiroshima Peace Park.

While the Japanese people commemorate yearly the terrible events that happened to their cities in 1944, there are increasing numbers of our children growing up without any knowledge of the Second World War and its consequences for all sides. There may have been many apparently rational reasons to bomb Japan to end the war. Recent polls show the majority of Americans questioned today would not support the use of nuclear weaponry were the situation occurring now. I view that as a good thing.

Growing up in the Cold War

Dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had many consequences, among them a rash of 1950s books and movies about life after a nuclear winter. The vision of a barren landscape, cold, dry and devoid of people, became part of our psychic landscape.

Events of the Cold War instilled fears in many of us growing up. I remember drills in my elementary school in which we’d hide under our desks—as though that would offer any protection in the face of an atomic bomb. Exercises in schools included ethical discussions about how we’d make decisions about who would be admitted to our fallout shelters—which most of us did not have. Could the country have been so naïve then? Are we still?
white paper crane

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.