At Hiroshima G7, bomb survivors grapple with their dream of deferred disarmament


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama (left) hugs atomic bomb survivor Shigeaki Mori as he visits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria


By Sakura Murakami

HIROSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – The last time a US president visited Hiroshima, atomic bomb survivor Shigeaki Mori was full of hope for a future free of nuclear weapons. Seven years later, he’s more skeptical.

As leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) gather in the Japanese city this week for a summit, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida wants a pledge on nuclear disarmament.

Kishida, who represents Hiroshima, said he chose it for the summit to focus attention on nuclear weapons. But the site has also highlighted a significant shift in global security since 2016, when Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit.

For the West, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscored the importance of nuclear deterrence. Moscow says it is ready to use its nuclear arsenal to protect its “territorial integrity” if necessary.

Many of Japan’s “hibakusha” – atomic bomb victims with an average age of 85 – worry the summit might be the last chance to call for disarmament. They fear Hiroshima’s legacy – its importance as the first city to be flattened by nuclear weapons – could be turned into an artifact of history rather than a call for change.

“I would like to see leaders commit to eliminating nuclear weapons,” Mori, 86, said in an interview. “I also know how hard it is to get them to go that far.”

Kishida, long a moderate in Japan’s ruling party, delivered the largest increase in defense spending in Japan’s post-war history last year, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made raised fears of a Chinese attack on neighboring Taiwan.

Japan relinquished the right to wage war after World War II and maintained self-defense forces. It relies on the United States for protection.

Noriyuki Kawano, head of the Peace Center of Hiroshima University, said the Japanese are more likely to be aware that they suffer from a “nuclear umbrella”.

“The ideal of a nuclear-free world and the reality of living under the nuclear umbrella coexist,” he said. “There is still co-existence, but now we may be seeing a peak in those scales,” he said, pointing towards a more pragmatic point of view.

About 51% of Japanese support an increase in the defense budget and 55% agree on the need for a counterattack capability, according to a poll by public broadcaster NHK in December.


Mori, who was 8 years old when he was hit by a bomb on the morning of August 6, 1945, was knocked unconscious by the explosion. When he regained consciousness, he saw a woman stooping over her lap to ask the nearest hospital.

Thirty years later, he began a decades-long search to find out how many victims were cremated at his school playground. His work also unearthed the identities of 12 Americans who died in the bombing.

Obama spoke of the “shared responsibility to look history straight in the eye” when he visited Hiroshima and praised Mori’s work in his speech.

The moment Mori was hugged by Obama at the scene of the bombing became the hallmark of the visit. Obama avoided any direct expression of remorse or apology for the bombing, which many Japanese felt was too late.

“I just don’t want all of this to end up as a dream,” Mori said of his disarmament hopes.

US officials say President Joe Biden is unlikely to deliver an independent message on disarmament during the summit, although he will visit the site.

Biden has committed to a new nuclear deterrence plan with South Korea to counter North Korea.

A US official said Washington was not pushing for an independent agenda on the issue, adding that Japan was leading the discussions.

Senior German government sources do not list nuclear disarmament as a top priority, saying that at the G7 it is “primarily important for Japan”.


A senior G7 source in Europe described the delicate balance between the desire for disarmament and the reality of security.

“The ultimate goal is a world without nuclear weapons, but neither can we be naive and disarmament today knowing that we are more dependent than ever” on the source, the source told Reuters. deterrence ability.

In addition to concerns about Russia, officials from the United States and its allies have sought to limit nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

“We recognize that the current international situation is very difficult in light of the Russian threat to use nuclear weapons,” a Japanese government official said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to give up, especially since Prime Minister Kishida is committed to pursuing this goal.”

Masashi Ieshima, a survivor who now lives in Tokyo, said elderly hibakusha often talk about seeing a world without nuclear weapons.

“But honestly, there’s a desperation behind the brave faces we put on, that we may not see in our lifetime,” he said.

Without real change, he said, Hiroshima risks becoming a public platform for Kishida.

“So what is the purpose of doing this in Hiroshima?”

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