President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima at the end of May was a historical event.
Marking the first time a currently serving American president visited the symbolic site, it received a wide coverage on the media and generated both eager anticipation and skepticism.
Some went home to catch the speech that would be delivered by President Obama, while some set up a demonstration at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial to demand a formal apology.
I didn’t see the event on TV actually (I might’ve been working), but I did read the transcript of Mr. Obama’s speech.
I thought it was a well-written speech, carefully worded to offer both sympathy to the victims of the atomic bomb and also to assure other countries in the SE Asia that it America didn’t condone the expansionist Japan of the past (not that he explicitly pointed out wartime atrocities–but by emphasizing the evils of using technology to kill and the need to find a way to global peace).
In his speech, he repeatedly mentioned the idea of remembering the past so that tragedies may not be repeated again. In other words, reflecting on past mistakes as a moral compass to guide our future.
I thought it was a good speech.
But then again, I don’t have a personal connection to World War 2 or Hiroshima.
Everything I know about the war I learned in Social Studies 10 class.
So I was curious to know how my Japanese friends and acquaintances felt about Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima.
When asked about the absence of direct apology in the speech (like some people have been demanding, but as far as I can tell these people are in the minority), one person told me, “For many Japanese people, what’s important isn’t whether America apologizes or not. He officially recognized the victims of the bomb, and that’s enough.”
Another opinion was that apology would’ve been inappropriate because Japan committed wartime crimes as well, and that it would be better to focus on building good relationships with other countries rather than holding onto grudges from the past.
As a foreigner living in Japan, I too agree that it’s important for countries to cooperate, rather than sabotage each other for political or economical gains.
Years from now, when the increasingly aging population is forced to accept immigrants of foreign nationals in order to replenish the number of workers (which is a point of debate), I hope both Japanese people and foreigners alike think of this event and remember that even former enemies can work together.