Obama to Make History with Hiroshima Visit, as U.S. Quietly Upgrades Nuclear Arsenal

May 11, 2016


Kevin Martin

president of Peace Action. His recent piece for CounterPunch is headlined "President Obama Should Meet A-Bomb Survivors."

President Obama will become the first serving U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Japan, later this month. The White House said Obama will not apologize for dropping an atomic bomb on the city toward the end of World War II. The attack on August 6, 1945, caused massive and widespread destruction. Shock waves, radiation and heat rays took the lives of some 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 people. President Obama is expected to tour the site of the world’s first nuclear attack with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Obama’s communications adviser Ben Rhodes said that Obama’s time in Hiroshima will "reaffirm America’s longstanding commitment—and the president’s personal commitment—to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." Obama’s visit comes as a report by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability has revealed the United States has been quietly upgrading its nuclear arsenal to create smaller, more precise nuclear bombs as part of a massive effort that will cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. We speak with Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be back in New York, though we are still on the road. The White House has announced President Obama will become the first serving U.S. president to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima later this month. But officials said he will not apologize for what happened on August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the first nuclear weapon in history on the civilian population of Hiroshima. The attack destroyed the city. Shock waves, radiation and heat waves took the lives of some 140,000 people. Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing another 74,000 people. President Obama is expected to tour Hiroshima with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama will not issue an apology.

PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST: The president intends to visit to send a much more forward-looking signal about his ambition for realizing the goal of a planet without nuclear weapons. This also is an opportunity for the visit to highlight the remarkable transformation in the relationship between Japan and the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite the administration’s call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the United States is pursuing a 30-year, $1 trillion program to modernize its nuclear weapon arsenal by designing bombs with smaller payloads. Retired General James Cartwright recently told The New York Times, quote, "what going smaller does is to make the weapon more thinkable," unquote.

To talk more about the significance of Obama’s Hiroshima visit, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action.

Kevin, welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to President Obama going to Hiroshima and the press secretary making clear he would not apologize for the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

KEVIN MARTIN: We’re very glad that the president is going to Hiroshima, but we don’t want it to be just another pretty speech where he talks about some day maybe having the right conditions to move towards eliminating nuclear weapons. He’s done that before. He has some accomplishments to show for his presidency, which we can talk about, but, for now, we want him to go with concrete actions. He’s got a bit of time left in his administration, and he needs to take concrete action to further that goal. And we can talk about various steps.

As far as the apology is concerned, the hibakusha, the A-bomb survivors, are not asking for it. The Japanese government is not asking for it—for all kinds of reasons. The administration has ruled it out. And I think while I personally would like to see an apology, what might be more meaningful is if he meets with hibakusha and asks their forgiveness for not doing more during his term in office to move towards the elimination of nuclear weapons. But if he will take some concrete steps, then that apology—or that asking forgiveness would be unnecessary.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you are demanding?

KEVIN MARTIN: First of all, as you just mentioned, this 30-year, $1 trillion cockamamie plan—a colleague of ours called it a "trillion-dollar train wreck"—to totally upgrade all of our nuclear weapons complex, from the research laboratories to new warheads to new missiles, bombers, submarines, I can’t think of a worse misappropriation of our tax dollars. And predictably, every other nuclear-weapon state has followed suit, saying that they are going to upgrade their nuclear weapons, as well. It totally shreds any credibility that the United States has on nonproliferation. So that would be the first thing, is cancel that.

There are a lot of other steps that he could take: taking our nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert, separating the warheads from their delivery systems, initiating negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons globally, initiating talks on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, taking unilateral executive action that doesn’t require a long treaty process—negotiations with Russia and then Senate ratification, which would be very difficult. We could cut our reserve nuclear weapons, get rid of a bunch of those. But even the current deployed nuclear weapons, we could go down to a thousand or fewer, as the Pentagon has suggested in the past and the U.S. actually wanted to do with Russia, and then challenge Russia to reciprocate. Those are just some of the steps that would be meaningful and worth a trip to Hiroshima.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the words of Kenzaburo Oe, the acclaimed Japanese novelist, recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. When Democracy Now! was in Japan in 2014, I interviewed Kenzaburo Oe and asked him if President Obama should apologize for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

KENZABURO OE: [translated] I am not seeking an apology, whether from the president or from any kind of person, in regards to this issue. And I believe the fact that humanity did create these nuclear weapons is a crime that all of humanity is responsible for. And I believe this is an issue of a much greater scale than any individual politician could make an apology for. I believe that it would have great meaning if Obama, for example, was to come to Hiroshima and hear the experiences or the testimony of the survivors. But I don’t believe that what we should be seeing here is an apology from someone on behalf of the United States’ people for dropping the bomb.

So I believe that if Mr. Obama were to come to the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, for example, what he could do is come together with the hibakusha, the survivors, and share that moment of silence, and also express considering the issue of nuclear weapons from the perspective of all humanity and how important nuclear abolition is from that perspective—I think, would be the most important thing, and the most important thing that any politician or representative could do at this time. I believe that the issue or the experience of nuclear weapons is something too large for any individual to apologize for, and it’s the responsibility of all humanity to take on board. So rather than an apology, I believe that what’s important is to call for an expression of the will and the dedication to create a world free of nuclear weapons. And so, if any influential U.S. politicians, or, for example, even French, were to come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is what I would like to hear.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the acclaimed Japanese author, Kenzaburo Oe, recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature. I interviewed him in Japan in 2014. I also want to turn to the words of a Hiroshima survivor I spoke to during that same trip. Koji Hosokawa was 17 years old when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. His 13-year-old sister Yoko died in the bombing. He gave us a tour of the city, speaking to us near the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, one of the few structures in the city that survived the atomic blast.

KOJI HOSOKAWA: [translated] The A-bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and also one in Nagasaki. And I think that atomic bombs were dropped not just on our cities, but on the whole human beings. And so, I have many things to talk about, about my experience of the A-bomb, but if the next one, the third A-bomb is to be dropped, then the Earth will be annihilated. I want people to understand, this is going to be—you know, the Earth is going to be annihilated. So whenever I talk, I want them to understand this.

The Peace Memorial Park, until the A-bomb, people lived here. Everything was destroyed. Everyone died around this area. The Peace Memorial Park is a beautiful park today, with so many trees. But later, they planted small trees, and after decades these trees became bigger, and now a very beautiful park today. So, I tell the visitors about this, too. I want them to understand people lived here. Please tell the people that people used to live here. War makes everyone crazy.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Koji Hosokawa, 17 years old when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on his city of Hiroshima. His 13-year-old sister Yoko died in the bombing. He was speaking to us next to the A-Bomb Dome, one of the few structures in the city that survived the blast. I want to end by asking you, Kevin Martin, head of Peace Action—you’ve been to Hiroshima. You’ve met with Hiroshima survivors, both in Hiroshima as well as in your home state of New Jersey. Will President Obama meet with hibakusha, Hiroshima survivors?

KEVIN MARTIN: I certainly hope so. I mean, I think he should. I think he needs to hear their stories, listen to their wisdom, listen to their sense of forgiveness, which is just awe-inspiring, as far as I’m concerned. And only thing that the hibakusha want—and, of course, many of them are very elderly—is to see the abolition of nuclear weapons, so that this never happens to anyone again.

I was in New Jersey just a few weeks ago for a dinner that New Jersey Peace Action had. And I was honored to meet again—I had met her years ago—Shigeko Sasamori, who was 13 years old when the bomb was dropped. She was a Hiroshima maiden who was brought to the United States for surgery and adopted by Norman Cousins, American peace activist. And she said she’ll be in Hiroshima, and she wants to sneak through the security line and meet President Obama and shake his hand and not let go until he promises to eliminate nuclear weapons. I can’t imagine that they’re going to stop this diminutive 84-year-old grandmother. But hearing those stories could be transformative for this president, who already is committed to nuclear disarmament but just hasn’t done enough during his presidency to move us toward that goal.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of it being Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who will take him around, the prime minister of Japan? When we were in Japan, I interviewed the prime minister at the time of the Fukushima meltdown, Naoto Kan, who was a big supporter of nuclear power before the meltdown, now is one of the leading proponents in the world against nuclear power and weapons. What about Shinzo Abe’s relationship with Obama and his role in renuclearizing Japan?

KEVIN MARTIN: Abe is terrible. He’s a nightmare for the people of Japan and the people of the region. He’s a militarist. He’s in league with the United States in terms of the so-called Asia-Pacific pivot to try to encircle and isolate China and Russia. And one of the worst things he’s doing is shredding Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the so-called pacifist part of the Constitution. So, he has to, I think, pay lip service to the goal of nuclear weapons abolition. I think most Japanese national politicians have to do that. But he’s no ally at all, as far as I’m concerned or the Japanese peace groups or Japanese survivors are concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action, thanks so much for being with us. We’ll link to your piece in CounterPunch headlined "President Obama Should Meet A-Bomb Survivors."

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we look at a delegate chosen by the Trump organization to represent Trump in California. They say it was a database mistake that the white supremacist was chosen. We’ll look deeper. And then we’ll talk about "Madness"; we’ll talk about what happens to mentally ill prisoners in a prison here in the United States. Stay with us.

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