Obama’s Visit to Hiroshima: Nobel Peace Prize for Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s Global Survivors

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Akio Matsumura

I announced the creation of the Nuclear Emergency Action Alliance (NEAA) on March 22, 2016. That same day, we witnessed the tragedy of a terrorist attack in Brussels. People began to contemplate the reality of increasing risk of terrorist attack on one of the 430 nuclear plants in 31 countries.

The Fukushima accident taught me that a nuclear power plant accident can have an unimaginable impact over human life for centuries. The accident has caused untold harm to those whose lives were disrupted by the plant. If things had gone worse, we don’t know how we would have calculated the cost of 24,000 years of environmental harm on future generations. It is my important discovery that we failed to understand the radiation from the nuclear bombs and the radiation from the nuclear accident are little different in terms of the risk for human life.

President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Friday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial on Friday. (Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times.)

There are two strong different opinions in regard to the nuclear bomb and the economic necessity of the nuclear power plants. Japan, of course, is a country that has seen the downside of both technologies. When President Obama visited Hiroshima, he painted “a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare, but as the start of our own moral awakening.”

I believe this message was appreciated by hibakusha, the world’s younger generations, and the people of Japan. To some, President Obama’s trip was controversial; would President Obama apologize to the hibakusha? Should he? (He did not.)

Instead, he delivered a speech, whose core message is one we should continue to think over and debate:

Seventy-one years ago, on a bright, cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed.  A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.  
Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima?  We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not so distant past.  We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 in Japanese men, women and children; thousands of Koreans; a dozen Americans held prisoner.  Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.

How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth.  How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.  Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.  Nations arise, telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats, but those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different. 

Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds; to cure disease and understand the cosmos.  But those same discoveries can be turned into ever-more efficient killing machines.

Yesterday we celebrated Memorial Day in the United States for the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. We commemorate their lives in order to etch their sacrifice more deeply into our collective memory. In Hiroshima President Obama said: “Someday the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness.  But the memory of the morning of August 6th, 1945 must never fade.  That memory allows us to fight complacency.  It fuels our moral imagination.  It allows us to change.”

In this light, I will reiterate the appeal that I wrote in January 2011:

“Time Magazine named “YOU” as 2006’s Person of the Year. What a powerful message. We each have the power to shape world. If all of the atomic bomb survivors were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as a group, the impact of their message would reach new heights and the Committee would establish a new precedent in who—a group, not just an individual or institution—could receive the prize. And what better way to honor Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s global survivors’ great push for peace while bringing a powerful but fading message to the forefront of public consciousness?”

We have to step back from our current arguments and take the time to consider the situation where our descendants will inherit thousands of nuclear bombs, hundreds of nuclear power plants and hundred thousands of tons of nuclear radioactive materials worldwide.




Related: The Powerful and Fading Message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s Global Survivors: The Case for a Group Nobel Peace Prize

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